There’s been many another performer who’s done this sweetly sentimental little recitation about a shoemaker who’s promised a visit from Jesus himself on Christmas, only to learn that Jesus doesn’t always appear in his own guise, but I like Grandpa’s best.
It reminds me of a story, though, of another kind of Christmas visitor altogether–
Bartholomew Rudd was a lifelong bachelor, but for all that he wasn’t a solitary man. He enjoyed the company of his fellow citizens, and was trudging home through a gentle dancing snow after a midnight carols service on Christmas Eve when his Christmas adventure began.
He would remember later that there was something strange about that snow. No matter how hard the flakes fell that night, they didn’t touch him: no dusting on his coat or hat, none melting on his gloved open palm.
Moreover, he could hear footsteps behind him–
but no one had left the church going in the same direction as him, and he had seen no one in the streets as he passed through them.
Disquieted, to say the least, he reached his little house. Before he went in, he turned around and took a look. The street was empty.
He went in and hung up his coat and hat and said “Merry Christmas!” to his old tabby cat Agatha, who yawned and then rubbed her head affectionately against his leg. “Come on, old girl. Let’s go into the study, by the fire.”
She accompanied him up the little flight of stairs, as far as the study door. When he opened it and stepped in, though, she turned and fled, for a voice came out of the shadows around the fireplace.
A man was sitting in the rocking chair to one side of the fire. He rose and held out his hand. It’s been a long time, Barty.
The light fell full upon his face then.
Bartholomew said in delight: Andrew! Andrew Putnam! What brings you here on a snowy Christmas morning?
In the days of their boyhood, Bartholomew Rudd and the man standing before him had been the proverbial twin sons of different mothers, an inseparable pair full of hijinks and good spirits. Manhood had split them up though; Barty had remained in their hometown, while Andy had gone into business, then into politics. He had married and had a family, and had, at last accounting, gained a position in the Andrew Johnson administration in Washington, DC.
Andy never did give Barty a straight answer as to what brought him to their hometown this night, and Barty, in their exchange of news and reminiscences, forgot that vexed question altogether. He was hungry after his walk home in the snow, so he prepared a light meal for himself and his guest. Before they ate they toasted each other with a glass of good ale.
Andrew, when invited to go down to the dining room, flatly refused to leave the warmth of the fire. He added, rather apologetically, that he had walked from the train station and gotten a ferocious chill.
So they ate and talked into the wee hours.
Barty at last promised his old friend we’ll talk more in the morning, Andy and directed Putnam to the guest bedroom just off the study.
Other than to say Good night, Barty. Sleep well Putnam made no reply to that, simply going into the guest room and closing it behind him.
Barty Rudd woke at nine AM on Christmas morning to the sound of his housekeeper, the redoubtable Mrs. Fitzsimmons, knocking on his door and calling breakfast!
Barty dressed and went to wake Andrew Putnam.
His first hint that something had been strange about that visit in the night came in the study.
The little table at which he and Putnam had eaten and drunk ale in the chime hours still sat before the fireplace. He hadn’t cleared away when they parted to sleep.
Then, both plates, and both glasses, had been empty.
This morning, both plate and glass from which Putnam had eaten and drunk were full.
A minute or two later, he found that the room he’d given Putnam to sleep in was not only empty–it looked as if it hadn’t been disturbed in months.
Distraught, he ran down to ask Mrs. Fitzsimmons if she had seen his guest that morning.
She said, What guest?
It wasn’t until the morning after Christmas that the telegram came.
Mr Rudd (stop) Regret to inform you that Andrew Putnam Esq. passed away on the first of December 1866 (stop) We know you join us in mourning his passing (stop)
The cable was signed The family of A. H. Putnam.
This story comes from Beth Scott and Michael Norman’s 1985 book Haunted Heartland; it is apparently based on an item that appeared in an 1867 newspaper, detailing an odd occurrence in the little town of Fountain City, Wisconsin.
Gives a whole new meaning to I’ll be home for Christmas–just sayin’–