Ralph Twigger, Innkeeper

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Ralph Twigger had been caring for Debra’s two boys, Josh and Jeremy, since March. He saw them off to school in the morning, helped with homework in the afternoon—all in exchange for a home-cooked meal. There had been a few adventures. A man in his seventies is bound to forget a few lunches. As a result, Ralph had become quite familiar with the school, the office staff and the boys’ teachers. Ralph even subbed for the crossing guard on sick days. And then there was the end of the year party when Ralph served as “Room Mom” for both the boy’s classes. No one would forget Ralph’s peanut butter surprise cookies.


They were ticking off holidays just like a family. The fourth of July was a picnic in the park with fireworks. Halloween was a hoot when all four of them dressed up as crayons (and ghosts). And Thanksgiving was real nice, too, with lots more to be thankful for than just Swanson’s Frozen Dinners.


But right after the Thanksgiving meal the boys pulled out coloring books, crayons, construction paper, glue, and glitter. Ralph soon figured it out. A ritual to usher in the Christmas season had descended upon this home. They’d barely finished the pumpkin pie when the Christmas carols began flowing.


“Help us, Ralph!” Josh, the oldest, was great at getting Ralph to try anything once.


“No thank you. I’m no artist.” Ralph was starting to feel a sad ache in the pit of his stomach that he hadn’t felt for a long time. He did not enjoy Christmas. He had stopped celebrating it when his wife, Rachel died.


“Please, Ralph. Mom got you a Christmas coloring book and crayons too!” Jeremy held them up for display.




Debra giggled as she handed him a cup of eggnog. Ralph hated eggnog, but politely took a sip. “It was the boy’s idea. They said you like to color.”


He swallowed the funny-tasting concoction, trying not to breathe. “Well now, that’s because the boys need some help from time to time with their coloring assignments.” He sounded a bit angry and the boys picked that up in his voice quickly.


“What’s wrong Ralph?”


The clock was sounding the hour of nine and his excuse for leaving this pre-Christmas celebration.


“I think we’ve worn Ralph out, boys.”


“I am a little tired,” he said, relieved that he had an excuse for his premature exit. As he walked over to the door, Debra met him there with an armload of leftovers.


“Here you go.” She hugged him and whispered in his ear, “Thank you Ralph for all you’ve been to me and the boys. We love you.”


His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. That sad feeling was there.


“Bye. See you tomorrow, Ralph.” Jeremy and Josh were waving the paper chain.


“Look Ralph, it’s as big as you!”


He knew he was about to cry. He couldn’t even say goodnight. In seconds he was back in his apartment. He slammed the plastic containers of leftovers on the counter. “Rachel, Rachel, I can’t do this without you!” He muffled the loudness of his voice with his hand.


This was her time of year. Rachel was so alive at Christmas. She loved everything about it. Their home looked like a Christmas card. Perfectly wrapped packages spilled out from under a tree that looked like snow had fallen on it. Gingerbread men marched in and out of the branches among hundreds of German hand-blown glass ornaments. Rachel dragged him to every Christmas event the city offered, except church. He always found a way to wiggle out of religious programs. Christmas Eve was the hardest. “Is there room in the Inn, Ralph?” She never pushed her beliefs. And sadly, Ralph never accepted them.


“No,” he’d say in too stern a voice. “There’s no room in the Inn.”

Then, an uncomfortable lump would rise in his throat as Rachel donned her coat and headed off to church, unaccompanied, every Christmas Eve. After she left, he felt so alone, so separate from her. Now that same old uncomfortable feeling was back. But this time it lay in the pit of his stomach. How am I ever gonna get through this Christmas?




No one gets a tree this early! He peeked out the window as Debra and the boys dragged the tree up the apartment stairwell. He’d refused to go with time, but he had to help now. They were about to fall down the stairway with the thing.


“Oh Ralph, thank you. Isn’t she a beauty?” Ralph had heard Rachel use those very same words for more than forty years.


Silently, he helped with the stand. The boys wanted the tree in their room, but agreed that the best place was in front of the living room window.


“Everyone will see it!” said Jeremy.


“Great. Everyone.”


For the next month, Ralph would see this tree everyday as he cared for the boys. And by the looks of all the boxes, the entire apartment would be transformed by mid-afternoon.


“How about some lunch and some tree trimming, Ralph?” Debra could make scrubbing floors sound exciting, but this—not trimming a tree.


“Please!” the boys were doing that begging in a way that he had such a hard time refusing.


“I’ve got repairs waiting for me, but thank you for asking.” He was proud of himself. He’d managed a polite response. It’s going to take days to get this sap off my hands.


Thanksgiving passed and the boys returned to school. But every day brought more invitations.


“How about some Christmas shopping?”


“I don’t buy presents. I send money orders.”


“Want to come caroling?”


“I’m too old to carol!”


“We’re baking Christmas cookies.”


“I’ve got to watch my sugar intake.”


“Ice skating?”


“Are you kidding?”


“Want to build a snowman?”


“It’s too cold.”


He was cranky and sad and short with the boys. He’d even refused their school Christmas pageant. It was confusing to Josh and Jeremy, but they loved Ralph.


Finally the boys decided that when school let out of Christmas vacation, they would confront Ralph. “We’re gonna find out why Ralph hates Christmas.”


The boys were quiet that morning and so was Ralph, He received no invitations to any Christmas falderal, which suited Ralph just fine. After school, two boys knocked on Ralph’s door at ten minutes after three o’clock tissue-wrapped clay creations.

“You can open it, Ralph,” said Josh in the monotone.


“You sure? Isn’t there a rule against early present opening?”


“Nah, go ahead. You might as well.” Jeremy sounded sad.


Caught off guard, Ralph opened the gifts. “Oh, boys, these are very nice.”


“It’s a dinosaur,” said Josh.


“And a little bowl you can use for tiny watch parts or paper clips,” said Jeremy.


That lump was back in his throat and his stomach churned. He wanted to throw his arms around these boys and tell them they were finest presents he’d ever received. Instead, he sat there and mumbled, “Thank you.”


The boys looked at each other and Josh elbowed Jeremy. It was time.


“Ralph, we have something very serious to ask you.”


“Alright, I’m ready. Go ahead…”


“How come you hate Christmas? Two little cherub faces stared at him. He couldn’t’ tell these boys the truth. They were too young to understand death and disappointment.


“Now, come on guys. I’m no worse than Ebeneezer Scrooge or that green fellow ‘n Dr. Seuss’ …”


“The Grinch,” they both chimed.


“Yes, the Grinch or… or… the Innkeeper in the Christmas story? Tell me, am I?” His mean voice was back.


I’m sorry I have to say this, Ralph,” Said Josh calmly. “But you’re just like Scrooge and the Grinch.”

There was a little pause in the list. “And the Innkeeper?”


The boys gave a resounding, “Yes!”


“You have no room for Christmas in your heart,” added Jeremy.


The indictment was delivered by two tiny messengers. Guilty. It was one of those rare moments of truth when a person has an opportunity of a lifetime to change.


But Ralph sat there numb. Speechless. Stomach churning. Finally, he went to the kitchen and poured a glass of chocolate milk. “Would you like some chocolate milk?” The boys shook their heads no. He returned to some work while the boys did some coloring. In silence they made a Christmas card for Ralph which they stuck in the refrigerator next to the chocolate milk.


It was five o’clock. Debra was home now. The boys gathered up their backpacks and headed next door. Ralph heard the door shut and reached for the phone rang.


“Oh, hi Ralph, yes, they’re here. They just walked in.” There was a long pause before Debra spoke again. “I see. We’ll miss you. You take care and have a good weekend. Oh, and the boys will see you Monday morning. Bye.”



Ralph knew this was the best thing. Although he’d miss Debra’s cooking this weekend, he needed a break from the boys and they needed a break from him. He stood up and felt a little queasy. Wonder it that chocolate milk was sour? He definitely felt a dull headache, too. Ralph opened the fridge and found the card leaning against the mild carton. In a child’s scrawl it read, “Merry Christmas Ralph. We love you. Jeremy and Josh.”


Grabbing the card, a carton of orange juice and a box of Ritz crackers, Ralph headed for the bed. He ate crackers, drank orange juice and watched the news. Then it started—a sneezing attack, from out of nowhere. Fortunately he had a box of tissues nearby. He sneezed and sneezed until his ears popped and his head pounded.


“I think I’m sick,” Ralph moaned as he searched the bathroom cabinet for cold medicine and a thermometer.


He was sick all right. He’d managed some fitful sleep during the night, but woke up to the same dull headache. It’s just a twenty-four hour bug. I’ll be fine by Monday. But he wasn’t’ fine. In fact he was delirious with fever. At eight o’clock the boys knocked and rang the door bell. But they couldn’t raise Ralph,


“What do we do, Josh, call the police?”


“No. Maybe Ralph went to run an errand and got stuck somewhere. We’ll give him twenty minutes.” The boys stared at Ralph’s apartment door as Josh’s watch ticked off the minutes.

Then they pounded on the door and rang the bell over and over again. In a moment of consciousness, Ralph called their names, faintly.


“What was that?” said Josh.


Jeremy’s ear was pressed against the door like Josh’s. “What? I didn’t hear anything.”


“I Thought I heard Ralph’s voice.”


“Maybe he’s hurt!”


The boys ran back to their apartment and called their mom at work. She was home in ten minutes. They used the extra key Ralph had given them and found him, soaked with fever.


“Rachel, Rachel. I’m sorry.”


“Rest now,” Debra said feeling his forehead. “You’re very sick, Ralph.”


“Mom, why is he calling you Rachel? She’s dead.”


“It’s the fever boys. Get me some wet wash cloths and I’ll call the doctor.”




Ralph recovered fully in a few days. He was a bit embarrassed, but grateful to the boys and Debra for nursing him back to health. How could he thank them?


He began pulling out boxes that had been hidden away for years. One was marked ‘train set.’


“Yes, those boys are gonna have a train for that tree.” He dug through the box marked “tree,” pulling out carefully wrapped ornaments for Debra.


“She’ll love these.”


Then he saw it: a present. On the tag, Rachel had written, “To my husband of 43 years. Love, Rachel.” Rachel loved squirreling gifts away all year and then she’d drop these hints that made no sense to anyone, but her. His hands trembled and the heavy feeling in his stomach was back. Ralph untied the ribbon and opened the box.


Inside was a pocket watch he had admired and a fine gold fob chain. Inscribed on the inside were the words, “Is there room in the Inn?”


Ralph was overcome with the beauty of the gift and the words Rachel had left behind. He sobbed and hugged the watch close to his heart. Rachel had found her way into this old heart. So had those little boys and their mother, but never Jesus.


“There are so many things I regret. I’m too mean and bitter and old to let Him in. How do you let Someone in you’ve spent your life ignoring? I don’t know how?” He paused, groping for words he’d never said before. “I don’t know how to let You in?”


There was no one else in the apartment at the time. But clear as bell, he heard the gentle answer: “Ask me in Ralph.”




Ralph showered, shaved and dressed in his bow tie and a new sweater from his sister. The watch fob gleamed below his sweater band. He knocked on the apartment door and held out two packages in grand presentation.


The door opened and Ralph said the words, “Is there room in the Inn?”


The boys tackled him as Debra giggled with delight at Ralph’s polished appearance. There was a twinkle in his eyes she’d never seen before. She hugged this dear man who had become like a father to her. “There is always room for Ralph Twigger!”


Rachel would have loved the next scene. There was Ralph, sitting in church on Christmas Eve, sandwiched between two little boys and their mother. Beaming from ear to ear, he sang at the top of his voice, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.”


And He had come…and made His home in Ralph Twigger’s heart.


©Melea J. Brock, 1994

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