Monday, 21 December 2015

A guest for Christmas dinner  

        Christmas time is a lonely period in the lives of homeless and single people when they have no-one to share the season’s festivities with others. Here is how one family solved that problem for some of the unfortunate ones who were homeless and alone on Christmas Day. I wrote this short story in December 2015 for my third book of short stories.

        On Thanksgiving Day in 2000, Harry Philips spoke to his two sons and three daughters at the dining table and discussed with them the upcoming Christmas dinner.

 “As you all know, it has been in the past our policy in our home that when Christmas arrives, we invite a stranger in need or someone who lives alone to our home to share our Christmas dinner with us.” He paused and then said, “Robert. It is your turn to bring such a person to our Christmas dinner.”

After Harry sat down at the table after placing the turkey in front of him, Jerry, the second oldest son Jerry said in a gruff voice, “I certainly hope that you don’t bring to our table a homeless person like Judy did when she brought a homeless woman to share our Christmas dinner with us. What a hag that woman was. I nearly puked when she sat down next to me.”             

 Judy replied with a grin on her face, “I recollect that it was the homeless woman who almost puked when she sat down next to you.”                                                                      

   Their father spoke angrily and said, “I want all of you to treat our Christmas guest respectively no matter what you think of that person. Anyone who is disrespectful to our guest will eat his or her Christmas dinner in the kitchen.”                                                                                           

    Robert Philips worked as the vice president of an ad company at 60 Queen Street West in Toronto on the tenth floor and was in charge of three artists and three wordsmiths. His salary was $200,000 a year.              

   Whenever Robert looked out of his office window, he would see the same homeless bearded man on the street holding a sign up begging for money.

   Every day he took the subway to work and got off at Queen Street and Bay Street and every day he saw the same homeless man near the south west corner. He was either lying between two buildings or sitting on the sidewalk. When he was awake, Robert would drop a toonie ($2 coin) in his outstretched hand.                                                                                       

   On December 23rd, the homeless man who appeared to be at least 50 years of age was awake and after Robert dropped a toonie into his hand, the man said, “Thankyou Sir for your kindness. Soon I will have enough for a meal.

   Robert asked, “When was the last time you ate any food?”                       

“Two days ago, Sir but please don’t fret. Soon I will have enough for a bowl of soup and a hamburger.”                                                                        

   Robert smiled at him and asked, “Sir. Would you feel insulted if I asked you to join me for a good lunch at my expense at a decent restaurant?” He had always known since he was a young child that charity is the desire to help others in need without any expectation of recompense.        

   The old man smiled and replied, “Good Sir. The insult would be mine if I was to refuse a kind offer from a man who has the best interest of my stomach. My stomach and I thank you for your kind offer.”                              

   Robert realized that the old beggar was an intelligent man. Robert helped the old man up and the two of them walked to a nearby upscale restaurant. Robert learned that the beggar’s name was Stanley Harrison.            

   When the two of them sat in the nearest booth, a waiter had approached them and then said with a scowl on his face when he looked at Robert, “Sir. We don’t serve beggars in this establishment.” Robert realized that the waiter was new to the tavern.                                                             

   Robert replied angrily, “You will serve my guest and you will also apologize to him and treat him with great respect.”

   The waiter said in an angry tone of voice, “Who do you think you are? Both of you get out of this tavern now or I will call the police and have you both arrested and charged with creating a disturbance.”                                       

   The old man began to get up from his chair and said sadly, “I will leave. I don’t wish to cause any trouble.”                                                            

   Robert smiled at him and said, “Sir. Please remain where you are seated. It isn’t you or me that is causing the trouble. It is this waiter.” Then he turned to the waiter and said firmly. “Get me the manager!”                       

   “He’s busy. Now get out!”                                                                           

   Robert said angrily and loudly, “You have one minute to get the manager or you will be fired.”                                                                               

   The waiter said in a snarly tone of voice. “You can’t fire me because you aren’t the owner.”                                                                                            

   “Thirty seconds have passed.” said Robert firmly.                                    

   The waiter pointed to the front entrance and said, “Get out NOW!”         

   Thirty seconds later, Robert said with a smile on his face. “You’re fired. Get your belongings, change into your street clothes and get out of this establishment,,,,NOW!”                                                                        

   Robert then pulled out his cell phone and phoned the restaurant and Billy Hampston, the owner and manager of the restaurant answered. He said, “Robert. It’s nice to hear from you. What can I do for you?”                         

   “Billy. I and my guest are in your tavern now and we have a serious problem with your new waiter.”                                                                  

   The manager arrived in seconds and asked Robert what was wrong.         

   Robert replied, “Your new waiter ordered my guest to leave your tavern because he is a beggar.”                                                                   
Billy asked, “Is he a beggar?”

   “He is but does that mean that a beggar who causes no problems and is a guest of someone else doesn’t have the right to be served a meal in your restaurant.”                                                                                                          

   Billy smiled at Stanley and said, “Sir. I apologize to you for the treatment you have received from one of my staff.”                                            

   Stanley stood up and offered his hand to Billy and said, “The heart of a good man becomes obvious when he accepts the blame for someone else.”

   Billy looked at Robert and said, “Any friend of yours is always welcome in my restaurant and any man that speaks so eloquently as this gentleman does is always welcome in my establishment.”                                

   Stanley said with sadness in his voice, “Alas Sir. I doubt I will be a guest of this gentleman again and since I am a beggar as your waiter has said, I never have enough money on hand to be able to pay for any of the fine meals that are listed on your menu but nevertheless, I thank you for your kind words.”                                                                                                   

   Billy smiled at Stanley and asked him if he was looking for work. Stanley replied, “I am not afraid of work and have always been willing to work but no-one has offered me a job and when I applied, they just laughed at me.”

   “I am not laughing at you when I offer you a job as a waiter for whom you will be replacing.”                                                                                

   “Sir. I don’t want someone fired simply because you want me to work for you.”                                                                                                                   

   Billy laughed and said, “You will when you see who is fired.” He then turned to the new waiter and said with a firm voice, “The manner in which you treated these two patrons in my establishment is outrageous and far below the standard I expect from my staff. You’re fired. Get your belongings, change into your street clothes and get out of this establishment, NOW!”

   Robert smiled at Billy and said, “Those were my exact words.”              

   “I know.” replied Billy. “Do you think I don’t know what is going on in my establishment?”                                                                                           

   Billy then said to Stanley, “You will have to do something with your beard.”                                                                                                                     

   “Do I have to remove it entirely?”                                                               

   “No you don’t. Just trim it. You can start right after Boxing Day. And now gentlemen, what have you chosen for your meals?”                                     

   After the men had finished their meals, Robert said to Stanley. “Now we have to find appropriate clothes for you. We will take the subway up to the Hudson’s Bay store.”                                                                                    

   “But Sir, “I don’t have money to buy clothes.”                                           

   Robert smiled and replied, “You will after you have earned enough money as a waiter. You can pay me only as much as you can.”                         

   Two hours later, Stanley had chosen two sets of casual clothes, a pair of shoes and a dark blue suit, three ties and two bathing suits.                

   “And now, Stanley, we are going to the YMCA a few blocks away for a swim.”

   An hour later, Robert took him to a nearby barber and had his beard and hair trimmed. When he looked in a full mirror, he gasped as tears ran down his cheeks. “I haven’t seen myself in such finery and looked this good in years.”                                                                                                         

   Robert then took him to an apartment building two blocks away and when they entered one of the apartments, Robert said to him, “This apartment is leased by my firm. We use it when clients from out of town are doing business with us. You can sleep in either bedroom you choose. There is food in the fridge and pantry in the kitchen if you wish to cook your own meals.”                                                                                                    

   Stanley was astounded at that he saw. It was a luxurious two-bedroom apartment fit for a king.                                                              

   Robert handed Stanley two hundred dollars in twenties and said, “You don’t have to pay me back for this as it is my Christmas gift to you. Spend it as you wish. Tomorrow I will pick you up at three in the afternoon and take you to my home for Christmas dinner. You can dress casually.”   

   Stanley was speechless being so overwhelmed at Robert’s kindness and generosity. All he could do was shake his hand vigorously as he began crying.
       The next day Robert had parked his black car in the garage of the apartment building and when he and Stanley entered the garage, Stanley said to Robert, “I hope I haven’t dressed too casually by wearing this black sweater and pants.”                                                                                                
        Robert smiled in reply and said, “You look fine.” Then Robert looked at Stanley’s hair and said, “I see that you have dyed it a bit.”                       
            Stanley laughed and asked, “Would you rather I appear as an old man?”

           “You look great, Stanley.”                                                                           
         By five in the evening it was dark outside and since the Christmas Eve dinner at Robert’s home wouldn’t be until six thirty, he knew that they would arrive in plenty of time.                                                                   
          When Stanley saw the home where Robert lived in Forest Hill; a swanky district in Toronto, he was amazed at it size. The edges of the roofs of the three-story house were lit up with Christmas lights. 
          The living room where Robert took him to had no windows. The chairs and sofas were covered in dark brown leather. 
          Robert’s mother entered the living room and both men stood up to greet her.  
       Robert said to his mother, “Mother. I would like to introduce you to Stanley Harrison. I met him at the Wellington Tavern and learned that he has no family in Toronto to share Christmas dinner with so I have invited him to have Christmas dinner with our family.”                                                                                                                                                                                        “Stanley. I am so pleased that my eldest son has invited you to our home so that we can share our Christmas dinner with you.”
         Stanley smiled at her and replied, “I am grateful to your son and you, Missus Philips for your kindness. I haven’t shared a Christmas dinner with anyone in the last ten years. Today’s dinner will be a great treat for me.” 
        An hour later everyone was seated at the dining table. The turkey was placed on the table in front of Harry Philips and ten minutes later everyone at the table was eating turkey and vegetables etc.
          Harry turned to Stanley and asked, “What kind of work do you do, Stanley?  
          Stanley was hoping that question wouldn’t be asked. “I have been out of work for a little while however beginning next week I will be working at the Wellington Tavern as a waiter.”   
         Jerry, Robert’s younger brother then spoke directly at Stanley who was sitting directly across the table from him.  
         “You have been out of work far more than a little while. I never forget a voice when I have heard it before.”
           His mother asked Jerry where he had heard Stanley’s voice before.   
         Jerry replied by talking directly to Stanley. “You have been out of work for many years. I know this for a fact because I have seen you on the corner of Queen and Bay with your hand out begging for money every time I visited Robert’s office.” Jerry then looked at his mother and said, “Robert has brought home a filthy beggar instead of a man with no family to share our dinner.” 
         Harry said angrily to Jerry, “I told you that if you were rude to anyone at this table you will eat your meal in the kitchen.....Now” 

            Stanley interjected and said to Harry, “Sir I will be happy to explain my background to everyone at this table and especially to this young man.”     
             Harry said softly, “Stanley. You don’t owe any explanation to any of us at this table, especially to this rascal of a son I have.”
         “I appreciate that Sir but if I don’t explain to this young man what I did before he first met me, he will never understand the value of never judging a book by its cover.”  
         Harry looked at Jerry as he was getting out of his chair with his plate and utensils in his hands, “SIT!” Jerry sat down. 
         Harry smiled at Stanley and said softly, “Go ahead, Stanley.”                          
Stanley looked directly at Jerry with a stern face and began telling his story.                                                                                                   
         “Twelve years ago I was a professor of literature at the University of British Columbia. I was married and we had a son. In two thousand and five, my wife and ten-year-old son were killed in a car accident when a drunk driver struck our car.”
         Stanley paused to wipe his eyes and then he continued. “I tried to keep my mind on my work at the University but I couldn’t get the deaths of my family out of my mind so I resigned my post and moved to Toronto. It was my hope that my grief would dissipate but that hope was fruitless. No matter where I worked, my grief haunted me. By the time I was suffering less from my grief of the loss of my loved ones; no-one would hire me anymore since I had been out of work for so long. I applied for welfare but was refused their aid since they said I was fit enough to find work. I was destitute so I had no other choice but to beg on the street. It was on the street that Robert took pity on me and as a result, I was offered a job as a waiter at the Wellington Tavern. I am truly grateful to Robert for his kindness in making that come about.”
         Harry said to Jerry, “Do you wish to say anything else to our guest?”  
         “Yes, Father.” He then looked directly at Stanley as he stood up with his plate and utensils in his hands and said, “Sir. I owe you an apology. I have treated everyone who knows me as if the earth revolves around me. I was cold to others while others recognized that I was stupid. I have learned from this encounter between us that I should not judge others without first judging myself. I have great respect for you, Sir and I wish you well in your career, no matter what it is.”  
         Stanley smiled at Jerry and said, “I accept your apology Jerry. Let me quote from Samuel Johnson. The difference between a well and an ill-bred man is this: One immediately attracts your attention and the other your aversion. You love the one until you find reason to hate him and you hate the other until you have reason to love him.”    
         Everyone at the table began to clap their hands in respect for the man who was to them, obviously a cultured man.
         Jerry looked directly at Stanley and said, “Sir. We were both brought up as well-bred persons and you have retained that stance in your life whereas I failed to retain it.”
         Jerry then began to leave the table when his father who smiled and pointed to Jerry’s chair and said in a soft voice, “Sit.”
         Five years later, the owner of the Wellington Tavern sold his tavern to Stanley who got a bank loan to buy the tavern and he paid it off during the following five years. He was also a guest lecturer at three universities after publishing four of his books of poetry. He never remarried.
         Harry Philips lived until he was 84 when he died in his home surrounded by his family. His wife died two years later.
            Robert later became the president of his firm and under his  leadership; his firm did well in the ad business. He and Stanley continued to be close friends. 
         Jerry went to law school and when he graduated, he was a successful lawyer and often did cases without charge for some of his clients who couldn’t afford his fees. He also became close friends with Stanley.              

         Most bigots wearing rubber boots and standing on glass will be protected when God sends bolts of lightning towards Earth but they are not saved from the wrath of Man for their bigotry unless they are willing to reform. 

Jerry reformed himself and for this reason, he no longer faced the wrath of Man.




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