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A Nugget for Christmas

A Nugget for Christmas

by James C. McNeill
copyright © 1996

As a hospital social worker, I've heard many stories; some true, some lies, some sad, some glad, and some strange. Jonas Anderson's was the strangest of all.

I was referred by the head nurse and I read over his medical record. Sixty five years old, in apparent good health. It was the week after Christmas, and Mr. Anderson had stepped off the curb in front of a bus. He had a broken left arm, both radius and ulna were fractured and he'd been knocked unconscious, so he'd suffered a concussion. He looked like an attempted suicide. The holiday season isn't jolly for everyone.

I entered his room, and he was sitting up, watching 'Jeopardy'. He looked fit and trim; a little weathered, a light beard. He was grinning at the contestants, and the crows-feet at his smiling eyes told me this was a happy, contented man. He switched off the television.

"Mr. Anderson, my name is Albert Wilson. I'm the hospital social worker. I brought your personal effects. Hospital policy has us put your valuables in the safe any time a person comes in unconscious." I handed him a plastic bag with his wallet, watch and other valuables. He opened the bag and poured out the contents.

He sorted through them and held up what looked like a large gold nugget on a thin leather thong, a necklace, probably. "This is the thing that got me in here. Pretty, ain't it? Here, hold it." He handed me the necklace.

I was surprised at how heavy it was. It was three or four times as heavy as I expected it to be from its size. "My word, that's heavy. Is it gold?"

"Yes, sir. I believe it is. Feller gave that to me on Christmas eve. I came to town to put it in my safety deposit box. "

"Would you like to talk about your accident?"

"Sure thing, son. You want the long version, or the short version?"

"I think I already know the short version from your medical records."

"OK then, it looks like I'm gonna be here a a few days, anyway. Long version it is."

I handed the nugget back to him and he began his story.

I have a mine up in the hills. Ain't no bonanza, you know, but it's given me a good living. Been workin' it for twenty odd years now. I ain't rich, but I guess I'd have to say I'm well off. I got all I need, and enough to share with those who ain't got as much. I donate to a kid's hospital here in town. It won't change the world, but maybe I can help a little.

I've got a cabin up there, a commercial built log house. It's got all the comforts of the city, and I prefer it to my condo most of the year. My wife died a few years back, and the kids are married and moved away, so there's just me. Been a loner most of my life, it don't bother me.

It's been a light winter, at least so far, and I decided to spend Christmas at the cabin. I picked all the furniture in it, and it's homey, you know? It's no problem getting up there in the Jeep, and I didn't want to stay in the city. Not enough snow there for a real white Christmas as far as I'm concerned.

I'd been working in the mine during the day and watching TV at night, sometimes I'd read a good book. Christmas Eve, I listened to the news after dinner. Weather man said to expect thirty percent chance of snow, some canyon winds, clearing after midnight. "That'll mean a ground blizzard up here," I thought. "A regular white-out."

The snow he promised started about nine o'clock. I started a fire in the fireplace, and spent the evening watching TV. The late show was one of those things that they always show on Christmas Eve, and I was enjoying Scrooge and his adventures when I heard a noise outside. Somebody was stomping his feet.

He began knocking at the door, and I got up to let him in. Figured anybody out in a storm needed shelter. Robbers prefer fair weather. At least I hope they do.

I opened the door, and this old feller stepped in. Kinda short, had a full white beard, and he was a little portly. No, I guess I'd have to say he was downright chubby.

"Come in, get outa that storm. Come over by the fire and get warm. I'll fix you a cup of hot cider or cocoa if you'd prefer."

I figured he was a forest ranger, although he wasn't wearing the usual uniform. He had a ski cap with a tassel on top, and he took it off and shook the snow from it.

"Thank you, Jonas. I got lost in this storm, but it doesn't look like it's going to last long. Hot cocoa would be just fine. Oh, and some cookies, if you have some."

"You bet. I made some of my famous oatmeal-raisin cookies yesterday. Be back in a minute. By the way, you seem to know me. Have we met?"

"Yes, we have. It's been a long time, but yes, we've met."

He didn't offer to tell me his name, like he thought I'd remember him. I didn't want to admit that I didn't, so I just let it drop.

I fixed the cocoa and filled a plate with cookies. He looked like he could eat a dozen or more, and I wanted a few myself. I took the tray over and put it on the table by the fire.

"There you go, help yourself. And I think I'll join you."

We sipped the warm drink and munched the cookies. "These are excellent cookies, Jonas. Make them yourself, you say? I'd like to have the recipe for these. Take it home to the Missus and the gang."

"No problem at all. I'll just print you up a copy on the computer." I fired up the old 286 and had him a copy of the recipe in no time.

"Thank you very much, I can always use a good cookie recipe. So how have you been, Jonas? I was sorry to hear about your wife. Kids doing OK?"

"Yes, I'm fine, and the kids, they're all doing great. Kinda wish they lived a little closer, but you gotta go where the job takes you."

We nibbled and talked, watched the fire, laughed and joked and visited like old friends. I kept trying to remember who he was. He looked kinda familiar to me, but the name just wouldn't come. I was a little embarrassed about it, but he didn't seem to notice.

The clock on the mantle announced midnight, and he got up and looked out the window. "It looks like the storm has quit, and as you said, you gotta go where the job takes you. I'd better be on my way. It's been nice visiting with you."

"Sorry to see you go, but feel free to stop by anytime I'm here. You gonna be able to get outa here OK?"

"Yes, I think so. The sleigh does very well in snow."

He stopped at the door, and we shook hands. Then he reached into his coat pocket and brought out a little box.

"Jonas," he says, "You've been extra good this year, and for the last several. One of my...helpers found this. Here, I'd like you to have it." He handed me the box. "Merry Christmas to you."

"Well, the same to you, sir. Have a safe trip, now."

He waved good-bye and walked into the night. I heard the jingling of bells as he drove away in his sleigh. "I wonder what he's doin' up here, anyway?" I thought.

I opened the box, and inside was this nugget. It's the biggest one I've ever seen. I 'bout fell on the floor.

I spent Christmas day trying to remember where I'd seen my visitor but the memory danced just out of recall.

The next day I headed to town for groceries and to put my Christmas present in the bank. I noticed the tracks in the snow where his sleigh had been, but the tracks leading away just kinda faded out. Got to town OK, only to be hit by the bus when the light changed and I crossed the street on my way to the bank. It was my own fault, shoulda looked closer.

I had to laugh a little. "Jonas, do you realize what you just described? It sounds like a visit from Santa Claus. Are you sure you didn't just make the whole thing up?" I teased him.

"Santa Claus? Don't believe in Santa Claus. He was a forest ranger. The nugget's real, ain't it?"

"Yes the nugget's real, although I can't imagine a forest ranger giving it to you. Still, I guess if it had been Santa, you'd have known by his red suit."

His mouth dropped open and he stared at me. I wondered for a second if he would lose his upper plate.

"Red suit! Santa wears a red suit! My gosh, Mr. Wilson, I forgot all about that."

He paused a minute and looked out the window. He took a few deep breaths and looked back at me like he'd just come up one number shy of winning the lottery.

"Santa wears a red suit. I wish I'd remembered that while he was there. 'Course you wouldn't have no way of knowin' but that's why I got hit by the bus, why I thought he was a forest ranger. You see, I can't tell red from green. I'm color-blind."

Copyright © 1998 by Greenhorn Publications


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