Henry was planning a night of caroling for the youth group. He knew that whatever he planned, he would have to include Claude.
Claude had Down Syndrome. He was 19 years of age. At a church function, Claude could mix with people very well. They understood him and accepted him for the way he was. But, to take him out with the youth group, for a night of caroling at different homes, was a different story, filled with apprehension.
Nevertheless, the festive night was scheduled and everyone bundled up with coats, scarves, hats and gloves. The ground was covered with nearly a foot of snow. Shelby had come early to get the bus started and warmed for the passengers. Everyone was ready to go.
“Where is Claude?” someone asked.
“Is he coming?” another retorted.
Henry remembered the caroling time they had last year. Most of the youth group had been struck with the flu and couldn’t attend. The only young people for caroling that night, a year ago, were Claude, Henry’s 10 year old daughter, and himself.
“Past-ur Hen-ry,” Claude said in his handicapped broken English, “I luv to sing Jing-gall Bells. My mau-um even gave me some ba-ells to shake.”
Henry remembered how he felt, with only two people going with him, caroling. He wanted to cancel the whole night and take Claude home. But, they went to all the houses on the list. They went to the nursing home and even sang at the convenience store when they stopped to use the restroom.
The highlight of the evening, as Henry recalled, happened at one of the last houses they visited. Claude said, “Pas-tur, can I kno-ck on the door this ti-um?”
“Sure thing,” Henry had told him.
Claude went to the door, knocked gently, and waited for the porch light to come on. The porch light was the cue to start singing. This time, however, the light didn’t come on. The door opened slowly and a man stood peering at the threesome through a small crack.
“Y-ou didn’t turn the li-et on,” Claude reprimanded. “That’s whe-en we start to sing.”
The door opened wider.
“Are y-ou gon-na turn the pour-ch li-et on?” Claude pressed the question.
The threesome stood silent for what seemed like a long time as the man shut the door and returned with his wife. He opened the door and switched on the light.
“Jang-gall bells, jang-gall bells, jang-gall all the w-ay,” Claude started in his high pitch, tone deaf voice, and shaking his Christmas bells.
Henry and his daughter joined the singing, halfheartedly. They kept their eyes on the couple standing in the doorway and not focused on the words or music. Something was happening with this couple.
Tears started to flow down the couple’s cheeks. Claude was shaking the bells and hollering the words as loud as he could. He, evidently, was enjoying this night of caroling to the fullest. When Claude finally finished the 4th round of Jingle Bells, the couple opened the storm door and asked the group to come inside.
“Would you like some hot chocolate?” the woman asked, as she wiped her tears from her face.
‘Ah w-would,” Claude offered.
Henry nodded affirmatively and the threesome entered the house.
The man, slowly wiping his own tears from his face, showed the group where they could sit by the fireplace and get warm.
“I need to tell you something,” the man started. “We had a son just like your friend here. He was our only child. We couldn’t have children when we first got married. After a while, we gave up on the idea. But, later on in our life, my wife became pregnant and Ronald was born. He lived to be 27 years old and this is our first Christmas without him.”
“God must have sent you here tonight,” the woman stated as she served the hot chocolate. “We were sitting by the fireplace thinking about Ronald and wishing that he was with us. We miss him so much.”
As the man walked toward Claude, he began to sing, “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way….”
Henry’s mind was brought back to reality by the debate the kids were having concerning Claude. To Henry, there was no room for debate. Claude and his Christmas bells were going to join this group for caroling. Henry knew a couple that would thoroughly enjoy this night and would probably have some hot chocolate available, as well.
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