At Christmas, we want to give our loved ones the gift of their dreams, the best gift that money can buy. Unless we're broke.
This story isn't entirely new. I've told parts of it before. But this is a different version with a slightly different meaning. I hope it has meaning for you.
On Christmas Eve, when I was 9, my mother dropped a bomb on my brothers — bad news that she had already dropped on me.
"Santa got stuck in snow near Asheville," she said. "He's real sorry, but he's running late."
Denton was 3. He didn't care. Joe was 5, totally blind, but he could always see plain as day through our mother's excuses.
"How late?" he demanded.
"Maybe spring," Mama said.
Our stepfather hadn't worked in months, due to a bad leg. We barely had money to buy beans, let alone, to fill Santa's sled.
Folks had left food on our porch that I'd mistaken for Christmas gifts, not pity. It can be hard to tell the difference.
That night we ate cornbread and ham, a gift from some good people at church. My stepdad came in leaning on a crutch and carrying a box of tangerines. We ate them all. Then Mama read us the Christmas story from the Bible, making sure to point out that Jesus was born in a barn.
"That's the best story I ever heard!" Joe said.
We sang some songs, "Silent Night" and "Jingle Bells," but not "Here Comes Santa Claus."
Denton fell asleep like a possum, but Joe yelled, "I am not one bit sleepy!" He always said that. He knew Mama would make me tell him a story. So I took the braces off his legs, tucked him in bed and said, "What do you want to hear?"
Joe grinned. "Sister, we just heard the best story ever. Tell me the second best story!"
And so, I told him this:
"Once upon a time," I said, "there was a boy named Joe. He was blind and stubborn and he could barely walk. But he never let anything stop him.
"Joe had a red tricycle, the finest three-wheeler money could buy. He couldn't pedal it, so he pushed it, one hand on the seat, the other on the handlebar, blowing like a thunderstorm across the yard and into ditches.
"He'd brag to his sister, 'When I grow up and get my license, I will fly so fast the angels will run and hide their wings!' ''
That's how I ended the story, with Joe's plan to scare angels. He laughed and clapped his hands. Then he fell asleep to dream his impossible dream.
Did I really think Joe would get a license and drive a car? I wanted to believe it. But I knew, either way, he'd figure it out for himself. He didn't need me to dim his dreams. He wanted me to dream them with him.
There's more to Joe's story, things he's proud of and things he'd rather keep to himself. Isn't that true for most of us?
He boarded for 10 years at a school for the deaf and the blind where he learned to read Braille, type on a Braille typewriter and fistfight on the playground.
He traded his tricycle for a white cane and let it lead him wherever he wanted to go.
He ran a concession stand in a county courthouse trusting his customers to pay correctly.
He married the love of his life, who was also blind, and held her hand through 10 good years until he lost her to cancer.
He has never had a license, driven a car or seen his face. But he sits on his own porch, makes his own choices, goes to church, cooks his meals, washes his dishes, buckles his braces, pulls for the Clemson Tigers and calls his sister at 6 a.m. And at times, he's even been known to make angels run and hide their wings.
Joe is living a dream that he and I and countless others have dreamed for him. It's called Life.
The best gift is not one that money can buy. It's the gift that we give freely from our heart.
This Christmas, I hope you'll give someone the story of their dreams. And I'll give my brother the latest version of the second best story he and I ever heard.
Sharon Randall is the author of "The World and Then Some." She can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924 or by email at email@example.com.