An Angel on Wheels

Published 6:00 am Sunday, December 25, 2022

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Editor’s note: Each year, local author G. Mark LaFrancis writes an original Christmas story and shares it first with readers of The Natchez Democrat. Here is this year’s story “An Angel on Wheels.”

Special to The Democrat


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“I don’t want to go to the crummy concert,” I said with anger in my voice and eyes.

“Don’t say that,” Mom said. “Your sister has a singing part.”

“Oh, great. I get to listen to the crows sing.”

“Luke!” Mom hollered. “Your sister has a good voice.”

“I know,” I said. “She yells at me all the time with that good voice.”

Mom said emphatically, “No argument. You’re going with all the family.”

I walked off, grumbling. As I did, I could hear my sister in her room rehearsing “The First Noel”:


The first Noel the angel did say
was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
in fields where they lay keeping their sheep,
on a cold winter’s night that was so deep.

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
born is the King of Israel.


I cupped my hands over my ears. Mom walked by and pulled my arms down. “You will not spoil this night for your sister. She’s been rehearsing for a month. This is her night to shine.”

Mom pointed her finger at me. “Listen, mister. She’s been at all your games and sat on the sidelines in her wheelchair cheering for you. She’s your biggest fan. Now you have to be hers. Do you understand.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I mumbled.

“I expect better from you. She looks up to you,” Mom said.

My sister rolled out from her room. “I’m ready,” she said with a glow on her face. “Let’s get going.”

She looked at me. “How did I sound?”

Mom glanced at me.

I said, “Like an angel, Angel. Get it, a beautiful angel” as I looked at Mom.

My sister wiped a tear. “You mean it? You really mean it?”

“Yup,” I said, bending over to give her a kiss.

I helped Mom get Angel into the van. She wore a new dress and a tiara that sparkled. I had never seen her look so radiant and . . . beautiful. For years, I always had a clever comeback to her remarks, my way of not treating her like she was an invalid. She had told me she wanted to be just another little sister and me just another older brother.

So, that’s how our lives went. But that night, well, that night was different. I could sense something deep was happening within her.

When we arrived at school for the Christmas pageant, the hall was packed. We helped Angel to the back where the other performers were getting ready. One of them said under her breath, “Oh, no, here she comes, the ‘rolling wonder.’”

Through all our years in school, I had heard similar remarks and tried to brush them off. I hadn’t wanted to get into a fight over her and lose my status as a pretty good athlete and class leader.

So, tonight after helping Angel get settled, I shrank into my protective shell and headed to the audience. Looking back, I saw a tear slip down her face. And my cowardly stomach turned to knots.

I sat with Mom. “She looks so pretty,” Mom said.

“Yup,” I mumbled in my typical mode.

The pageant proceeded as children in various grades sang and parents responded with praise and applause. All the while, I thought, “Mediocre. Wait until they hear Angel.”

Yes, some guilt plagued my thoughts. All these years, I hadn’t built her up. But tonight, I thought she was going to be great, no matter how she sang. My kid sister would be great.

When her class took the stage and Angel rolled out, I could hear some folks in the audience whisper, “Oh, my! Is she going to sing?” I clenched my hands, and gritted my teeth.

The children began to sing:


The first Noel the angel did say
was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
in fields where they lay keeping their sheep,
on a cold winter’s night that was so deep.

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
born is the King of Israel.


Then, Angel rolled to the front. “A solo?” I thought. “Oh, no, don’t blow it.”

With confidence, Angel slowly scanned the audience and seemed to look beyond them as she began:


They looked up and saw a star
shining in the east, beyond them far;
and to the earth it gave great light,
and so it continued both day and night.

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
born is the King of Israel.


Mom beamed. And even I had to admit Angel had a set of pipes.

I noticed folks in the audience looked impressed. I said to the lady next to me, “That’s my sister.”

The lady smiled and nodded, “She’s good. She sings just like an angel.”

“Yeah,” I said, “an angel on wheels.”

At that moment, I realized Angel wasn’t just my sister, but she was a performer.

As the song ended, I jumped to my feet and clapped as hard as I could, joining the others in the audience. My heart swelled with pride. “My sister!” I yelled. “That’s my sister!”

When Mom and I went backstage to get Angel, she was surrounded by the other girls. “You were great!” they clamored. “Yes, wonderful!”

In the van, Angel punched me in the arm as she said, “See, I told you I could sing.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I knew that. I just didn’t want to give you the big head.” I laughed as Angel and Mom laughed, too.

Once we arrived home, Mom said, “Angel, you look so tired. Let’s get you to bed.”

She sighed, “Okay, Mom. But you know what? This was the best night of my life.”

I went to Angel’s room and sat by her bed. “Got any smart remarks? she asked.

I grinned. “Nope, not this time. I was never prouder of you than tonight.”

“Really?” she asked.

“Oh, really!” I said. “You sang . . . well . . . like an angel.”

She reached out and took my hand. We sat in silence for a few minutes.

“Young lady,” Mom said as she stepped in the room, “You’ve got to get your rest.”

“Yes Ma’am,” Angel said. I helped Mom put Angel to bed, and I stayed in her room until she went to sleep. She looked so frail. I thought how fortunate I was to run, jump, play.

“Goodnight, Angel,” I said. She didn’t reply. She was deep in sleep.

She was still sleeping the next day when I headed off, walking to school. Mom let Angel sleep late, knowing she was really tired from her performance the night before.

Friends along the way and kids I didn’t even know said how terrific Angel’s performance was. I just grinned. “Taught her everything,” I said.

It was a good day in school. I couldn’t wait to hustle home and tell Angel. I bounded through the door. “Angel! Angel!” I hollered.

Mom came out of Angel’s room, whispering, “Shhhhh, she’s resting. The doctor’s in with her.”

“What? What’s wrong?” I asked as Mom led me away down the hall and to the couch where we sat together.

“Angel didn’t want you to know. She has been ill, very ill for a while now. The performance took a lot out of her.”

“But she sang so well,” I said.

Mom agreed: “She gave everything she had . . . almost literally.”

I covered my face and emerging tears with my hands. Slowly shaking my head, not wanting to believe this, I replied, “No, not Angel. She’s so strong.”

Mom pushed back tears, saying, “I know, I know. But now it’s her time to let go. Come on; let’s go see your sister.”

We came into her room. Pale and more fragile than I’d ever seen her, Angel lay on her bed. She looked at me and motioned for me to come closer. In a raspy whisper, she said, “You’ve been the best brother . . .”

Unable to speak, I touched her hand. I tried to think of a smart remark. None came. But my tears did, flowing down my face.

Mom and I sat with Angel until she gently slipped away. I felt like a hammer had smashed my heart.

The days became a blur. The funeral. Buddies patting me on the back. The flowers. The prayers. Wonderful words. And the songs, the beautiful songs.

More days passed, and I found myself sitting in Angel’s wheelchair in her room and staring at photographs of us together. I was lost, adrift in the memories we shared.

Mom came in and put her arm around me. “You know, Angel would not want you to sit here and wallow in grief. I miss her, too.”

“I was so bad to her sometimes. I didn’t mean it, you know?”

“She knew,” Mom replied. “In fact, she liked your snarky remarks. She told me they made her feel like a sister, not a wheelchair sister.”

I looked at Mom. “Really?”

“Yes, really. Now come to bed, okay?”

“Not yet,” I said. “Got something to do.”

“Okay,” Mom responded as she left the room.

I took one of the photos of Angel and me from her shelf and held it close. Then, I looked up with tears in my eyes and said, “This is for you, Angel.” Then I sang,


The first Noel the angel did say
was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
in fields where they lay keeping their sheep,
on a cold winter’s night that was so deep.

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
born is the King of Israel.