In the city of Eureka Creek (population 16,523), the year 1991 came to be known as “The Year of Miracles.”

The label had first turned up in an editorial in the local paper around mid-year, and in the minds of the townsfolk it was no idle boast. Consider some of the evidence:

• The town’s economy, which had steadily plummeted over the past decade, had suddenly been resuscitated by the simultaneous construction of a shopping mall on the north end of town and a new edible oil plant several miles to the south. 

• Mayor Fitzhugh was finally married in June at the age of 50, bringing to an end years of speculation about his private life not worth restating at this time. 

• And the historic old Majestic Theatre, closed for the past several years for repairs in the wake of a terrible popcorn machine explosion during a matinee of Howard The Duck, celebrated its grand re-opening with a sneak preview of Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves – followed by a special showing of the final 25 minutes of Howard The Duck, for the benefit of those who had been present when the popcorn machine exploded and had always wondered how the movie had ended.

In a day in which the word was tossed around so freely that it had all but lost its meaning, these were the sort of things that passed for miracles in Eureka Creek. It would fall to two of the community’s youngest residents to remind the residents of one neighborhood the true meaning of the word.

Rick and Brenda – the 9-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter of a local cabinet maker and his wife, a nurse’s aide at St. Amelia’s Hospital – were walking home from a party at a friend’s house that Christmas Eve. They lived only a short distance away, no more than four or five blocks; but the sun had gone down, a fresh layer of snow was falling and the children were carrying gifts they had received at the party, and so the walk home seemed much longer than it might have otherwise.

The children were less than a block away from home when Brenda suddenly stopped and cocked her head to one side. Rick hadn’t noticed at first that his sister had stopped and so continued walking another yard or so, stopping himself only after she did not answer when he’d asked what presents she hoped to find under their tree the next morning.

He turned to find her still standing there. “What’s the matter, Brenda?” he asked. 

“Quiet!” she whispered. “Do you hear that?”

“Hear what?” Rick glanced around then spoke again. “C‘mon, Brenda, it’s cold and I want to go home!”

But Brenda remained still, and Rick was about to complain again when he now heard it too: the sound of a small child crying nearby. “It sounds like it’s coming from over there,” he said, pointing to the old fir tree in the empty lot next to their house.

They set their packages down and ran over to the tree, and sure enough they found a child sitting there, shivering in the cold. The boy appeared to be just a little older than Brenda and was dressed in little more than old rags.

When they asked who he was the boy simply said, “I’m lost, and I am so cold and hungry!”

Brenda looked up at her brother. “Let’s bring him home and give him something to eat,” she said. “He can stay warm until we find out where he belongs.”

Rick frowned in reply. “I guess we should,” he conceded, “but I don’t think Daddy’s going to like it.”

Well, Rick was right. When the three of them arrived home Rick and Brenda’s father began carrying on about the dangers of bringing strangers home and didn’t they know it was Christmas Eve and how in the world were they supposed to find this child’s parents at this time of night? His yelling and screaming attracted the attention of some of the neighbors, who soon began congregating in the yard for a glimpse of the unknown ctranger who had created such a stir.

Rick and Brenda paid them no mind. They gave the child some of the warm soup and roast beef their mother had made for dinner, and Rick found a set of his old clothes the boy could change into. The child warmed himself before the fire for a moment before he announced that it was time to go; Rick and Brenda followed him out into the front yard where the small crowd was still gathered.

The boy turned then and spoke to the children who had helped him. “May God in Heaven reward you for your kindness,” he told them. And at that moment a bright light shone down from the sky, and there in the yard before the startled eyes of all who had gathered there appeared a number of small children, all dressed in sparkling, silver robes and holding golden harps and lutes in their hands as they sang. 

Full of wonder at the sight, the crowd turned back to face the stranger again – only to find that he was now clad in gold and wore a glistening crown upon his soft hair. He turned to Rick and Brenda and in a sweet and soft voice said,  “I am the Christ Child, who wanders the world this time each year seeking to bring joy and good things to loving children. Because of your generosity this night, I will leave with you my blessing.”

Then he waved his arm in the direction of the dying fir, which was suddenly transformed into a stately, vibrantly alive Christmas Tree laden with golden apples and ripe berries. And with that the Child – together with the singing children, whom Brenda would later declare had been a host of angels – vanished from their sight, leaving in their wake a renewed sense of peace and love among those who had witnessed the wondrous events of that night. 

And every year after that, each Christmas until they became grown, the tree bore the same wonderful fruit in honor of Rick and Brenda. And the story spread throughout the town, and each year the people of Eureka Creek came to view the tree and remembered the loving kindness shown to a stranger by two of the smallest among them, and rejoiced to know they had at last witnessed a true miracle...

(Copyright 2013 by JAS)