Aminister, trying to help a boy find his father, winds up in jail on Christmas Eve. A mother copes with the death of her infant. A father searches for his runaway son. A widower takes in an outspoken foster child who tests the limits of his generosity. In unexpected ways that illuminate the true meaning of the Christmas story, these people put aside their loneliness and sorrows and fears and rediscover the joy of life. These inspirational stories are parables for today, voicing hope, celebration, and the mysteries of the human heart.
About the Author
Katherine Paterson is one of the world’s most celebrated and beloved authors. Among her many awards are two Newberys and two National Book Awards, and she was recently named a "Living Legend” by the Library of Congress. She has been published in more than 22 languages in a variety of formats, from picture books to historical novels.
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Angels & Other Strangers
Minutes after the letter came from Arlene, Jacob set out walking for Washington. He wondered how long it would take him to get there. Before the truck died, he could make it in an hour, but he'd never tried to walk it. At sixty he knew that he didn't have the endurance that he had once had, but he was still a strong man. Perhaps he could get there by morning if he kept a steady pace. Or if he could at least reach a place where there was a bus, he could ride as far as the few bills in his pocket could take him.
Arlene needed him, so he would go to her if he had to walk every step of the way. Arlene, his baby granddaughter, whom it seemed as if he had only just stopped bouncing on his knee, was going to have a baby herself. She was alone and scared in the city and wanted her granddaddy, so he had put on his dead wife's overcoat and then his own and started out. The two coats protected him from the wet snow, but his wife's was too small and cut under his arms. "I'm coming, Arlene baby," he said to the country road. "I'm going to be with you for Christmas. "
How wonderful it would be, thought Jacob, if someone stopped and offered him a ride. Occasionally a car would pass, even on this almost deserted stretch. Once he almost raised his arm to try to wave one down, but thought better of it. Who would give a ride to a black man on a lonely road? He could hope in the Lord, but he'd better rely on his own two feet. No rest, as the Good Book said, for the weary.
In Washington, Julia Thompson was humming as she worked. Why was she so happy? Because she had two beautiful children and aloving husband. Because Walter, her husband, would be singing at the Christmas Eve service, and she always felt so proud and was thrilled by his voice. Because it was nearly Christmas. Yes, of course, all those things, but, hallelujah, it was the first Christmas since she'd known Walter that she hadn't had to deal with his Aunt Patty.
Aunt Patty was Walter's only living relative. Some respect was due her for his sake, but nothing ever went quite right with Aunt Patty. The best years were the ones when she had simply grumbled her way through the celebration, taking the edge off everyone else's enjoyment. But the last three years, she'd managed to orchestrate a series of disasters, though how could you blame an old lady for falling down on the church walk just before the Christmas Eve service and having to be rushed to the hospital with a broken hip? Perhaps Aunt Patty should have known enough not to give a two-year-old a teddy bear with button eyes which he could and would immediately Pull out and swallow, but she had not known, and it had meant that they had spent Christmas Day with Kevin in the emergency room. Last year, despite Julia's apprehension, everything had gone well, until they, with great excitement, told her the news that they were expecting another child. Aunt Patty, who had never before revealed a social conscience, suddenly burst into a lament for all the starving people in the world. Here they were, gorging themselves and daring to be happy, while at the same time producing still another baby to crowd out the hungry millions.
But this year, despite Walter's urgings, Aunt Patty had decided not to make the thirty-mile trip into the city. The weather was uncertain, and her bursitis had been acting up. Julia cleaned the house and shopped and baked with an energy she hadn't possessed since before jenny was born. She even had strength left over to take the children on long walks and read aloud to Kevin. It was going to be a wonderful Christmas.
Julia put the baby down for a nap and then took Kevin up on her own bed and began reading to him. Ordinarily, Kevin loved being read to, but today he squirmed and wriggled straight through "The Night Before Christmas."
"my, you're fidgety," she said.
"Little boys are supposed to be fidgety," he said with dignity.
She hugged him close. "Now this is the story from the Bible about when Jesus was born. Try to listen, all right?"
She read him the story of Mary and Joseph coming down from Nazareth to Bethlehem, stopping to explain about the taxes, the crowded inn, and the manger, going on to the shepherds in the field.
" 'And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord'-well, it's like a great light, Kevin-'shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not . . . ' "
"Why were they afraid, Mommy?"
"I don't know -- I guess the light and the strangeness. They'd never seen a real angel before."
He seemed satisfied. She read on, and since he was beginning to nod, she finished the whole chapter in a quiet voice until he was sound asleep. Julia propped pillows around him and went into the kitchen to clean up the lunch things and get ready for the evening. It was then that she discovered that they had no tangerines. Perhaps she was being silly, Kevin was only four and jenny scarcely five months, but a Christmas stocking without a tangerine in the toe seemed somehow incomplete, and Julia was determined that this be a perfect Christmas. She got Becky the teen-ager from next door to baby-sit long enough to let her drive to the grocery store to pick up a few. She was home within twenty minutes.
"Everything quiet?" she asked the sitter.
"Sure. Fine. Your aunt called."
Julia's heart sank. "She said to tell you she'd changed her mind and would Mr. Thompson please come pick her up."Angels and Other Strangers. Copyright © by Katherine Paterson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.