Sunday, December 24, 2006

My Favorite Christmas Memory

It's Christmas Eve... the whole world is settling down for tomorrow -
one day of "peace on earth" (subject to change).

There are a lot of thoughts running through my mind - most of which
will be covered in tomorrow's post.

I want to share with you a story I wrote several years ago. Some have
read this, many have not. This includes several members of my family
who are looking in for the first time. I hope you'll enjoy it.

Originally published at on November 29, 2004:

December, 1982 wasn't starting very well for many people. It had been a rough year with the economy and recession the way it was. No one knew that better than a middle aged woman standing in line at the gas company, ready to plead for leniency so she could continue to heat her home. Paying bills was all brand new to her since the divorce and she was barely staying afloat.

Her 4th oldest son sat quietly in the waiting area, reading a book and secretly wishing the gas company would side with his mom. The boy had witnessed his mother accomplish many things in the past year; balance a checkbook, balance her time between being a mother and father to her four children living at home, devoting time to her old friends and a new church she was involved with, and treading the line of sanity and insanity to keep up with it all.

As she neared the end of the line, the middle aged woman reviewed her papers and her checkbook figures. The child support payment was due in the first week of December and it was spent already on food, the phone bill, gas for the car, and if there was anything left Christmas presents. She wasn't good at lying, conning, or bluffing at the beginning of the year; it wasn't her nature. How far she had come in a year's time, she thought to herself.

After she was through at the gas company, it was off to school... again. She shot a somewhat disgusted look at her 4th oldest son, who was re-reading that dumb Chicago Cubs book again. At home, he was quiet and kept to himself in his room. He tried to keep up with his older brothers but never was able to garner their attention or respect.

At school, however, it was a totally different story. He had always been the class clown and would do anything for attention or a laugh. For a time, it was cute. Now, as he reached adolescence and after the divorce of his parents, his classmates were annoyed by him. So his antics became more forced, more harsh, more biting to no avail. He was losing friends and teachers were losing their patience.

As punishment for his recent crimes, the boy was forced not to go on the annual Christmas shopping trip to downtown Chicago; something he wasn't going to do anyway since he didn't have enough money for the bus fee, let alone gift money. He smiled knowing the punishment the principal tried to hand out didn't work.

"If you're not going on the trip, you're still required to come to school," the principal snorted. "You will spend the day here, doing class work and cleaning chores. My secretary will have a check list for you to do." The boy went to school and did what he was told, never complaining once.

The Sunday following the incident, the boy and his mother attended their new church. He liked going to the services while his mom worshipped in a new way; speaking in tongues, raising hands, etc. As church ended and members of the church congregated, the secretary approached the mother and boy. She had been a member of the church for years and wanted to say hello to a familiar face. During the conversation, the mother learned of the punishment the principal gave.

The gas company bought the story. Now she was ready to tackle the school problem. Her 4th oldest ran to her side and was thrilled the gas would stay on. A quick death stare from his mom told him he wasn't out of the woods yet.

They pulled into the school parking lot, nothing new for the middle aged woman. On many occasions before, she was here to learn about a fantastic new stunt her 4th oldest was being punished for. Many times she had to sit and listen to the rather pompous and arrogant principal tell her what a bad kid her son was. She kept the boy out of school today for some reason and now she dragged him into the office.

"Very nice to see you again." the principal said in a patronizing way.

"SIR," the mother countered. "I understand you kept my son here last week while the others went on the Christmas trip and made him do manual labor."

"Well, yes... but..."

"I just came from my doctor's office, sir." she interrupted.

The boy's eyes widened for a brief millisecond, hearing his mom's lie, then returned to normal. He then sagged a bit, playing up the injury his mom was about to tell the principal. He tried to keep from smiling throughout the dissertation / ass reaming his mother gave the startled principal. It was the only time in the son's life he ever heard his mother use the "F" word.

As they left the office, the secretary smiled and gave a friendly look to them both, reminding the middle aged woman about a church function. As if coming out of a trance, the mother smiled and returned to her old self again; quaint, proper, thanking the secretary for the reminder.

In the hallway, the 4th oldest said goodbye to his mom. Another death stare.

As the middle aged woman reached her car, her oldest friend, neighbor, and crossing guard for the school arrived. They chatted briefly about their prospective days, chitchatted, gossiped, etc.. Many of her old friends gave up on the middle aged woman long ago. She was thankful to her friend for standing by her throughout the divorce, the new church, and as she tried to raise her family.

Before the friend began her crossing guard duties, the middle aged woman reached into her purse and handed her a $20 bill. It was only a fraction of the money she owed to her friend. But she had nothing else to give her for Christmas. They played the usual game of "keep that - take it" before the friend pocketed the money. The middle aged woman went home, winning two small battles that day. But as she thought about the larger picture, she knew she was losing the war.

Christmas Eve... at last. The middle aged woman sat quietly in her drafty home, looking at the hastily assembled Christmas tree she had bought three days earlier. She was exhausted, mentally, physically, and spiritually from the divorce, the year, her church, and from her family. She had made her last decision before Christmas that day: one present each for her kids or food for the next half week until the child support arrives.

The presents laid under the Christmas tree. Nothing for herself.

The food banks were out of food. Her checking account stood at $0.56 cents. The phone was disconnected. Again. The thermostat was set at 60 degrees as the thermometer read 15 below outside. The car had two days worth of fuel but it didn't matter. The fuel line had frozen up at the shopping center and sat there still. None of her friends could lend her any money due to the holidays.

The middle aged woman looked at the broken TV set that went out months earlier and saw her Bible sitting atop it; her altar. She wasn't in the mood for "It's A Wonderful Life" or the sixth re-reading of Job and his story of patience. She looked at the family pictures on the wall and studied them again for the umpteenth time.

The newest family picture was just a proof; 2 x 3. There was no money for grand pictures like 3 x 5s or 4 x 6s. Not even enough for a colossal 8 x 10. It stood there as a testament to the middle aged woman. Through it all, she kept her family together, clothed, fed, protected, parented as best she could with no rewards or prizes for herself. As she looked at the picture, she began crying.

Off the family room was her 4th oldest son's room. He was awake, re-reading the Chicago Cubs book (again). He heard the crying, then sobbing from his mother in the family room and wanted to go to her side. He continued to listen as the sobs quieted down to sniffles and figured she was okay.

He was getting tired of hearing his mom crying and was constantly praying for a miracle. The boy was determined one day he would pay her back for all the things she sacrificed bunted and the Cubs won 2-1. Santo and Banks had solo home runs the next day against the Dodgers while ...

A knock at the door.

The middle aged woman opened the door and saw a person standing on her dark porch (the light was broken). The person was silhouetted by the headlights of a car that stood dead center in the driveway. For a brief moment, the woman stared at the faceless person, haloed in halogen light, speechless.

She turned on the foyer light and the familiar face of the secretary from school and church came into view. The middle aged woman, overjoyed to see any happy face, broke into tears and instinctively wrapped her arms around the bewildered secretary. The hug lasted for a brief time as the woman composed herself and the secretary waved at the car to come forward.

"We have something for you." the secretary explained.

Three large men emerged from the car and headed to the trunk. Each grabbed two sacks of groceries and headed to the porch. The middle aged woman's eyes were now two times larger than they ever were as the men came into her home and placed the bounty on the table. She sat next to the table staring at the bags, half dazed and half confused. She was crying uncontrollably. She was speechless.

The secretary came in with a large frozen turkey and placed it in the sink. The middle aged woman sat stunned, not able to move or speak. The secretary wished her a blessed Christmas and went to her side. The angel hugged the middle aged woman, still comatose at the outpouring of relief. As the secretary turned to walk away, the woman finally squeaked out the only two words that would come:

"Thank you."

The mother cried for her sons who immediately assembled in the kitchen where the mountains of food, glorious canned food, sat in paper bags. They stared in amazement at the bags and listened to the story of how a school secretary had come to rescue their Christmas.

The 4th oldest arrived last and saw that the miracle he was praying for had come. He went to his mother and gave her a hug that lasted for decades it seemed. By this time, the boy was crying along with his mother.

"I've been praying for this for a long time, momma" he whispered.

The mother now clenched her son so tight that the boy felt like he was going to snap in two. He finally asked to be released for the simple act of breathing. He began walking to his room, crying still and thankful. As he walked past the family Christmas tree, he squatted down to floor.

He wasn't there to look at the single present for himself. He looked into the manger that guarded the presents under the tree. The baby Jesus was looking up at him as Joseph, Mary, and the assembled cast of wise men and shepherds all looked at the swaddled clothed infant.

The boy turned around and peered into the kitchen where his mother was putting the Christmas gifts of food away. She actually looked happy for the first time that month of December, 1982. The son turned back to the manger, tears finally subsiding.

"Thank you for giving my mom a good Christmas this year."

Thank you for Christmas, period.

Don't forget the milk and cookies PLUS the carrots to feed the reindeer. Get to bed...



Anonymous said...

This is a very moving Christmas story, and a credible one. Thanks for sharing it.

Max C

CaptainOT said...

Max - Thanks for the comment!