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A 2015 Holiday Story for You

December 16, 2015

 

NOTE: As a part of my Christmas gift to my Wordwalk readers, I share with you the following holiday story (nearly 1500 words).

 

 

A Sign of Peace at Cocoa with the Clauses:

 

A Wreatha Natale Holiday Story

 

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

In one red-gloved and moderately arthritic hand, Wreatha held her guide dog’s harness handle and leash. Her right arm wrapped around a doubled grocery bag in which she had carefully placed several items in doubled plastic bags. No snow, no ice to navigate–just a heavy mist off the lake to help designate this December 12 the warmest on record for Milwaukee. As Wreatha and her guide dog Wiggles walked closer to Cathedral Square Park, she could hear the usual Christmas music, but also the sound of many voices–mostly those of excited children. “Cocoa with the Clauses,” she thought. She wondered if Santa were going to ruin her plans: she certainly hoped not.

 

When an event was in progress at the park, the homeless people usually left or were politely encouraged to leave the park. Wreatha said a quick prayer that Coco would be somewhere around the park so that she could give him the bag of goodies and her advice; then, she and Wiggles could return home to their dry and warm abode. Mentally checking off this task from her “to do” list was her big goal of the gray day.

 

As Wiggles guided her handler across the boulevard, Wreatha heard the clippity-clop and soft whinny of a police horse; undoubtedly, the mounted police officer was riding the perimeter of the park. Starting around the west side–the sparsely populated side–of the park, Wreatha realized that the horse was still a distance away; so, her concentration turned to listening for a distinctive and terrible cough–one that had been worrying her for too long. “Wiggles, do you see him? Do you see Coco?” Wiggles kept on her path straight ahead for a few yards and then stopped. Hearing a muted cough, Wreatha told her black lab-golden retriever, “Good dog!” The coughing continued and drew nearer. “Coco, is that you? I have something for you today.”

 

“Have you come for Cocoa with the Clauses?” his deep, raspy voice uttered.

 

“No, I was concerned that you wouldn’t be here today because of Cocoa with the Clauses.”

 

“I’m on my way to 12:15 mass. The park is for the kids today–not people , like me.”

 

“I …I want to give you this.” Wreatha handed the bag to the homeless man–homeless veteran. “Christmas gifts for you–a little early. Wool scarf and hat, gloves, socks, some food, cough drops, Kleenexes, and bus tickets. I want you to use the bus tickets to go to the Free Clinic or to…well, you know where…the V…”

 

Coco interrupted, “Thank you. I know you would not like to be hugged, but I thank you.”

 

Wreatha Natale could hear his smile; she was relieved because she was uncertain that he would accept any of the gifts. “At church, I will shake your hand for the sign of peace.”

 

“Yes, I know you will–not everybody does. Thanks, Ms. Wreatha. You are a kind and generous person. God bless you. I would like to give you something.”

 

“Just a promise–a promise that you will go to the Free Clinic or somewhere and get some medicine for your cough.” Suddenly, she realized that the police horse was directly to her right, alongside the curb.

 

“Happy Holidays, Ms. Natale,” the officer said.

 

Walking past Wreatha and her guide dog, Coco remarked, “Thanks, again. I am going to mass now. Take care. Merry Christmasto you and your dog–you, too, Officer Rudy.”

 

“Have a peaceful Christmas, Coco. Maybe, I’ll see you tomorrow morning at mass.” The coughing diminished in the distance.

 

Officer Rudy Bonariva commented: “I never saw him smile before, and I have known him for years. Thank you, Ms. Natale, your gift made him smile for once.”

 

“I told him that I wanted him to use the bus tickets to go to the Free Clinic or VA Hospital to get his cough checked out. I hope he will.”

 

“I know exactly what he will do with those bus tickets: he will ride the Jingle Bell Bus to see the Christmas lights each night–as long as he can. You are retired now, aren’t you?” Wreatha nodded affirmatively. “I suggest that you try another type of volunteer work.”

 

Paying no attention to the officer’s suggestion, Wreatha mentioned, “Maybe, you can try to talk Coco into using one of the bus tickets for…”

 

“You know they try to get him to go somewhere. He will only go to a shelter when the temperature is below freezing. I’ll try to encourage him to go to a shelter. The people there will take him to the Free Clinic. Don’t worry.”

 

“Officer, worrying is my avocation: I am very good at it. Coco’s cough did sound a little better today.”

 

“Someone had just given him a cup of cocoa before you arrived at the park. You know that most of the homeless people who favor this park go to both the Cathedral and Old Saint Mary’s for masses. They attend mass and are in a warm place for an hour or so.”

 

Yes, I know. They need a peaceful place sometimes, too.”

 

“A universal need. Are you staying for cocoa with the Clauses?”

 

* * * Twelve Days Later * * *

 

Late, as usual, with completing her decorating efforts, Wreatha was placing a few more Christmas ornaments on her small artificial tree when the phone rang. She answered the call with a mildly enthusiastic “Merry Christmas.”

 

The businesslike voice replied: “Thank you, Ms. Natale. This is Rudy Bonariva. I am parked outside your townhouse. May I come in? I have some news for you: I would prefer to tell you in person. Do you have company for thisChristmas Eve?”

 

“No, just Wiggles and I are here. Please come to the door.”

 

Within a few minutes, she was sitting beside the Christmas tree with Wiggles lying at her feet; Officer Bonariva sat across from her. Apologetically, he began: “I know it is Christmas Eve, but I thought you would want to know. I just came from the VA Hospital. Coco has been there, but the news is not good. Coco passed away several hours ago. All we know is that his real name is Colebert. His younger siblings could not pronounce his name, so they called him Coco. The name stuck–even through his military service, even through his deployment to Viet Nam. His mother’s maiden name was Colebert.”

 

As her eyes filled with tears, Wreatha managed to ask, “What was his last name?”

 

“Donner–like the reindeer. We are not aware of his having any relatives in Wisconsin. I was with him at … at the end. He told me that he had only one thing of value, a family heirloom; and he wanted me to give it to you as a Christmas and thank-you gift. He did appreciate your kindness to him. I appreciated your kindness to him.”

 

Officer Bonariva moved to sit beside Wreatha on the sofa and pulled something from his jacket’s pocket. Handing her a little gold box tied with a red velvet bow, he explained: “Sam, at Rohr’s Jewelers, cleaned the brooch a bit and put it in this box for you. Coco wanted you to have this brooch. It is shaped like a wreath and is made of emeralds and rubies. Sam estimated the brooch’s value at …”

 

Wreatha interrupted: “No, I do not want to hear its monetary value. No, please do not tell me. I could not possibly accept such an expensive piece of jewelry.”

 

“Yes, you can and should. A nurse at the VA witnessed what Coco told me and gave me. Coco was always so hurt when people at church would not shake his hand during the sign of peace. You always did share the sign of peace with him. That meant a lot to him. You must grant him his final wish.”

 

Slowly and carefully, Wreatha untied the soft bow and removed the lid of the gold box. Hesitatingly, she touched the beautiful brooch and whispered, “I will keep it just until you find a relative of Coco’s. I will keep it for just a little while out of respect for Coco’s last wish.”

 

“Good, thank you; but I doubt we will ever find a relative who is as deserving of this brooch as you are. I am usher at midnight mass–the midnight mass that is at ten o’clock at Old Saint Mary’s. I am going to light a candle for Coco and say a prayer for him. I think that will be his only kind of service because he wanted his body to be donated to the Medical College. Would you like to come with me to midnight mass? Would you like to join me in a prayer for Colebert Donner?

 

 

Best Wishes for a Peaceful and Joyous Christmas Eve!

Alice and Zoe

 

December 16, 2015, Wednesday

 

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3 Comments
  1. Alice. This story gets better with each read. You have such a gift for bringing text to life. Holiday hats held high my dear.
    Merry Magical Christmas to you and your wonderful, furry friend.
    dp

  2. This story is very touching, Alice, and reflects your sincere care and concern for others during the holidays and always. Thank you for another special Christmas gift.
    Love, Mary

  3. Carole permalink

    I understand the inspiration for this lovely, caring story. Sweet holiday wishes, Alice and Zoe!

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