When the repo men came to take his van last week, James Cramer begged them to at least leave his wheelchair.
They did, putting it in the garage. They told him he could still save his van, with the motorized lift that gave him his independence — if he paid $2,100 before Dec. 30.
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The words cut Cramer deep. He didn’t have the money.
The van was his connection to the world. He could drive himself to the grocery store and the doctor’s office. He could live at home and still feel like a man, with some control in his world. But most days, he just drove to one place: the Kansas City VA Medical Center.
“I like to go over there and sit,” said Cramer, 67, a Navy veteran. “I don’t do a lot of entertainmentBut I do love listening to gospel music.”
His words tumble out in blocks. Long enough for him to draw another breath from his oxygen tank. With COPD, his lungs run out of air quickly. His right hand shakes from Parkinson’s. His fingers are gnarled from arthritis. Diabetes and a heart condition complicate everything else.
Cramer, of Blue Springs, retired from an insurance agency six years ago after a heart attack. His family medical leave benefits ran out and his boss visited him in the hospital, “a really nice lady,” he said, but she had to terminate him.
Most Christmases he decorated his house outside and in, nearly floor to ceiling with twinkling lights and sparkling garlands.
“I love Christmas,” he said, and his eyes lighting up for a moment.
This year is different. He has been in the hospital so much that he fell behind on the payments for his van, putting other bills first. A huge mistake in judgment, he acknowledged. He had called every agency he knows. He called The Star this week because he didn’t know what else to do.
“You don’t know where to turn...,” he explained.
But word got around, as it does, especially at Christmastime.
And Cramer was given, perhaps, the best Christmas present in his life.
At 5:45 p.m. Friday, just moments after Cramer had confessed that “Christmas is my favorite time of year. I believe in Santa, aren’t we all just big kids,” there was a knock on his door.
A woman in a red Santa hat was standing there, holding a wrapped box. She asked Cramer to open it.
Inside was nothing, except a key.
“What’s this?” he asked. She smiled and told him to look in his driveway.
And there, back in its familiar parking spot, was his van. A gift from a group of anonymous souls who call themselves The Elves of Christmas Present.
Cramer started to cry, overwhelmed that strangers he didn’t know cared so much.
A man, also wearing a Santa hat, told Cramer his van was paid up through January.
“But we’re gonna take care of it, so that you won’t owe anything on it, anymore...Merry Christmas,” he said.
Cramer stared, and cried.
“All I can say is thank you, thank you, thank you. You have no idea what this means to me.”
But the givers were certain they did.