It’s the greatest story I ever told
by BRIAN GRAVES Banner Staff Writer
Dec 24, 2013 | 912 views | 0 0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
This is the season for what is called “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”

That story is, of course, about the arrival of Jesus in the form of a baby born to Joseph and Mary.

There are also the angels who announced to the shepherds the arrival of the newborn King.

A baby surrounded by angels would be a magical story on its own, and that is the story I share here.

It also has the added benefit of being true.

The story began shortly before Christmas more than a decade ago.

I was at my desk at the newspaper for which I was then reporting when our editor gave me an assignment.

There was going to be a benefit event at the high school to raise funds for a 1-year-old girl who was born with spina bifida.

I went to the high school and found the little girl to be bright, happy and a bundle of joy.

She had a smile that would light up a room and melt your heart with one quick grin.

Her laugh and her tiny dances made one instantly fall in love, yet at the same time wonder exactly what was so wrong with her.

As a reporter, my job very often requires a little homework. So, I went to discover more about the disease.

I found out the little girl had suffered a birth defect which occurs at the end of the first month of pregnancy when the two sides of the embryo’s spine fail to join together, leaving an open area.

This makes way for a plethora of different problems, complications and dangers for the child.

In this child’s case, it caused a reflux of urine into her kidneys.

Medical support for a child with the disease is massive and requires several doctors of different specialties.

Needless to say, it is a financially draining support that is involved for the family of a spina bifida child.

I wrote the story, it went to press and, as one has to do in journalism, I moved on to the next story.

A few days later, the editor said the mother had called to thank us for doing the story. The benefit had been a success, paying off $2,500 of the $3,000 in medical bills they had owed at the time.

The call was transferred to me and I accepted her gracious call and then I asked her one more question: “How are you guys doing now?”

She hadn’t called to do anything but thank us for help. It was a question that was not prompted.

The emotions spilled.

Her husband had just been laid off, they were months behind on house and car payments and the family was really in a state of distress.

There are a lot of phonies in the world, but I guess my smell detector has formed pretty well over the years and I could sense this was a mother in real pain.

They are having to deal with major medical costs, husband out of work, and they are literally on the cusp of losing everything.

“It’s tough when your 9-year-old daughter comes up to you and suggests instead of presents we buy catheters for her sister,” the mom told me.

Proceedings against their home were scheduled to begin at the end of that year, and the child was facing more surgery just days after that.

My editor, publisher and I had a conversation and decided, if the mother would permit it, we would do a follow-up article.

So, I wrote the story of the family’s new travails, it went to press and my train of thought moved on — but not for long.

Christmas was only days away when that issue hit the stands that evening.

I had no idea what was about to happen the next morning.

“Brian,” our receptionist’s voice said over my phone speaker. “Santa Claus is here to see you.”

Now, we were a fun bunch and I laughed thinking it was just another one of those interoffice chuckles.

“Yeah, right,” I responded.

“No!” she emphasized. “Come up front. I’m serious.”

She hadn’t lied. She just hadn’t told the whole truth.

There was a man in our lobby with a long white, bushy beard and wire-rimmed glasses.

It was the man who was “Santa’s representative” each year in the town square and parade.

He greeted me with a handshake and asked, “Do you know what size clothes that little girl you wrote about wears?”

I had to admit I didn’t but would be happy to find out.

Santa then inquired about the little girl’s slightly older sister and her sizes.

“I’d be happy to get that for you, sir,” I said. “Why do you ask?”

“I thought they might need a visit from Santa,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.

“That would be incredible,” I told him.

“I’ve also got two new girls’ bicycles, and a tree and decorations to put them under,” Santa said.

Well, I cry when a leaf falls off a tree and I must admit I still tear up thinking about this.

“How great is this?” I’m thinking to myself.

I told Santa to wait and went and called the mother and got the information on clothes sizes, but was sworn to secrecy on the bikes and the tree.

She was incredibly moved and appreciative and so was I.

I gave Santa his information and was anxious to be there on the day when Santa went to the little girl’s home and left his gifts.

I had just sat back down at my desk when the phone rang.

“Are you the one who did the story on the little girl?” the voice asked.

“Yes, sir,” I responded.

“Can you tell me how much their house payments are?” he asked.

That was actually information I knew, which I relayed to him.

“Do you know what bank?” he asked.

“No, sir but I can find out,” I told him.

“Great. Let me know as soon as you can,” he said. “Just don’t let the family know.”

Now there’s a tough one. I have to ask a family what bank holds the mortgage on their house without telling them why.

“I can’t explain right now but I need to know where you have your mortgage,” I told the mother.

She gave me the information and I then called the potential donor back.

After giving him the information, he informed me he was making two months’ payments, but wanted to remain anonymous.

Feeling warm yet? Just wait, the story’s not done.

It wasn’t 30 minutes before I got another phone call.

It was another person wanting to know of the family’s house payment situation.

I gave them the details, telling them someone was already going to pay off two months.

“That’s OK,” they said. “I’m going to pay two more.”

Amazing, I thought. I had never experienced anything like this.

Then within an hour ... another phone call.

I had to tell them four months’ of house payments had been accounted for.

“What about the car?” they asked.

“Let me call you back,” I replied.

Once again, I called the mother to ask an awkward personal question.

“What are your car payments and who holds the title?” I asked her.

She sounded as stumped as I had been by all of this.

“I can’t explain right now,” I once again had to tell her as I hung up the phone.

I called this potential donor back as he informed me he along with others were paying six months’ worth of car payments.

Let me interrupt this story for just a moment to put in a good word for area first responders.

Everyone knows how police, fire and rescue people on a daily basis help to save lives.

What many may not know is about the good deeds they do on a normal basis without even being asked.

There has been no exception to that rule in any community in which I have worked.

These men and women not only serve with great sacrifice, but with great heart.

Having said that, we return to the story and another phone call I got within a few hours of the car payment donor.

“Brian!” the mother’s voice said with amazement. “You are not going to believe this but the fire department truck pulled up a little while ago and they left more food than we have space to put it.”

All of that happened in one day within a matter of a few short hours.

The icing on the cake for me was a few days later when Santa tipped me off he had loaded up his sleigh, which looked more like an old pickup truck, and was on his way to make his deliveries.

The little girl and her sister could not believe it when the jolly old man arrived with a truck and some helpers.

Those elves quickly erected the tree and decorations while Santa chatted with the girls.

“There needs to be something under the tree,” Santa said. “Can you girls go to your bedroom for a minute?”

The ruse was for just long enough for two shiny new bikes, boxes of new clothes and an assortment of new toys that had mysteriously been added to the mix to be placed under the tree.

Santa called for the girls to come back into the living room and their reactions were something I could not put into words ... then or now.

It was a moment that not only made me believe in Santa Claus, but that despite all the bad news about all the bad people there are some very good people in the world.

And, yes, there are such things as miracles.

My final memory of all that took place is that one picture I took of Santa sitting in front of the tree with the girls perched on his lap and all the presents and bikes surrounding them.

That’s the picture that ran on the front page.

The better part of the memory is what I saw behind that picture.

A family’s heart full of wonder during the season of joy when it could have just as easily been one of broken hearts and destitution.

I will always remember that Christmas because once again, as they did long ago, angels came to surround a baby.