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Christmas story shows season’s beauty

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Merry Christmas, everyone!

A recent Sneed reader is responsible for the repeat of a column I wrote nearly 20 years ago.

She says her 88-year old mother clipped and saved the column . . . and asks: Could a meeting with her mother and the man I wrote about be arranged?

The man’s real name was “Tom,” an old friend who wanted to remain anonymous, but in the column I called him “Paul.”

My friend is now dead, and his story a distant memory, happening at a Christmastime past. I first wrote about the “Nativity” experience he and his wife had in 1990.

I have edited the original story. It’s my wish that it brings you the same mixture of joy and wonder it brought me.

The Past . . .

It was Christmastime 30 years ago, when a man named Tom stopped by my City Hall office when I was Mayor Jane Byrne’s press secretary.

We chatted easily, talking about family and the agony of gut punches when God seems gone.

Tom claimed he had once been close to death, the victim of an incurable muscle disease that bound him to a wheelchair and the ability to move only two fingers.

It was during that time he claims a miracle occurred: The scent of an intensely sweet aroma filled the hospital room while doctors were performing a bone-marrow biopsy on him.

“I asked the doctor if he smelled the same sweet scent, and he said he had,” Tom said. “But no one could figure out where it came from. We were baffled.”

“Shortly afterward, the disease began to mysteriously disappear.

“When I was fully recovered, my wife and I started doing some research into the possibility of a miracle. And believe me, I’m no saint.”

“We discovered that the overpowering scent could be the sign of a miracle by Padre Pio, an Italian Catholic priest who is in the process of canonization for sainthood.

“I believe now that I was cured through his intercession. I wasn’t predisposed to thinking about the signs of miracles when it happened. It was the furthest thing from my mind!”

The story continues...

Twenty years ago, Tom told me another Christmas story: the tale of how an old Italian priest once came to his home at Christmastime, shortly before the time his “miracle” occurred when he lay in the hospital, dying.

“I was in a wheelchair, and the priest asked if my wife and I would consider something very special,” said Tom.

“The priest was known for finding homes for the children of unwed mothers, and that night he wanted to know whether we could find room in our house for a baby!

“Heck, I was already in a wheelchair and had seven kids, but my wife and I decided to say OK.”

“The priest’s response was: “Wonderful. Wonderful. I’ll be just a minute. The baby is in the car.”

“But when the priest returned, it was not a live baby he was carrying, but a statue of the child Jesus in a manger!

“He told me: ‘It’s been with me so many years and, now that I’m retiring, I wanted someone to care for it. I wanted you both to treasure it.’

“The priest never cracked a smile or gave any indication that he had pulled a fast one on us,” Tom said. “So we sat there stunned!”

The epilogue . . .

Although Tom told me the story long after he had shared his “miracle” with me, it occurred to me both tales had happened back-to-back while he was sick.

Tom wondered if he’d been tested in that ridiculous Christmas scene with the old priest and spared because he opted to give shelter to a baby at Christmastime?

I do know the old priest visited Tom in the hospital when he was sick. And the “baby” sat in a creche outside Tom’s home every Christmas.

Who knows.

But it is the kind of story that keeps the spirit of Christmas alive.

Sneedlings . . .

Today’s birthdays: Sissy Spacek, 61; Jimmy Buffett, 64; and Bill Zwecker, ageless and priceless.

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