The People's Guide To Mexico

I don't do Christmas cards any more, and this is why:


1960. Divorce had nudged us into a regimen of forced austerity so that,
by Christmas, the survival game had become second nature. Through sheer
Yankee penny-pinching I had managed to put aside twenty dollars for presents
but, after banging my head long and hard against the shopping list, I
realized that things, mere things, could not begin to express how dear my
four boys and one girl were to me. Blocks and teddy bears and Mickey Mouse
watches seemed like shallow expressions of love, meaningless trinkets. Dare I
present them with the alternative that had crossed my mind as they came
bounding in, filling the house with laughter as they tossed hats and mittens
and ill-fitting boots all over the kitchen floor?
Hesitant to pose the question to children who deserved the whole first
floor of F.A.O. Schwartz, I gathered them around the tumbleweed we had
decorated with pine cones and tinsel that day before Christmas. I reminded
them of how grateful we had been that Lawrence hadnÕt drowned when he had
fallen into the pond the day before. How lucky we were to have one another,
although we were on the brink of broke. Then I took a deep breath and plunged.
"You know, giving without receiving is what the spirit of Christmas is
all about."
Good. They were still smiling, so I let it fly.
"Wouldn't it be fun to find a family who has even less than we have and
buy presents to put under their tree, kids?"
As soon as the words left my mouth, I thought, cut out your tongue, Liz!
Have you gone out of your mind? The children had little enough without
denying them a Christmas toy.
Well, five happy faces suddenly fell kerplunck into open-mouthed
bewilderment but, before I could recant with, "I didnÕt mean it, kids...just
kidding, honest," BillyÕs eyes lit up as if he had just seen the star of
Bethlehem shining on the manger.
"We could give them our piggy bank, too" he said. Penny bank was more
like it.
"And they can have my legos...IÕll find them under the bed," Allan said,
as if not to be out-given by his little brother.

I took advantage of the moment, before the impact of what they were

saying sunk in. With a "what the heck" attitude, I grabbed the two closest

kids and hugged them.

"Boy, will you guys ever feel great when you see how happy you make other

kids." I wasnÕt convinced. Neither were they. I could tell by the tears

building up in LawrenceÕs big blue eyes, followed by his twin brotherÕs

heartbreaking imitation.

"Hey, next year weÕll have a big Cadillac and weÕll go Christmas

shopping for ourselves every day." Hmm.

"Honest?" two of them said at the same time.

I was beginning to feel even worse for my untimely surge of generosity,

but with two of the kids committed, I was stuck with it. By the time I was

finished praising the glories of self-sacrifice the little angels were

believing every word I said. One by one they began to haul out a mangy old

toy of his own to give away, so excited youÕd think I had offered them Mars

on wheels.

Now, I had to find worthy recipients. I called the Salvation Army with my

inquiry, and scribbled down the address of a fatherless family in nearby

Salem. Then, with our list of names and ages we bundled up and took off to

the shopping center in our rustbucket station wagon, the whole way babbling

about the kids we were about to make so happy.

The six of us traipsed from store to store, counter to counter, warm

inside in spite of the cold wind in our faces.

"What shall we get for the four year old?"

"Gee, what do girls like?", asked the twins, one after the other.

"Hey, the dump truck, Mom. One of them would like that."

What a truly joyful ride home. We wrapped and labeled, left a tangle of

string and paper on the kitchen table, then eagerly headed for Turner Street

three miles away. I knocked on the door of the run-down cottage, and

positioned the twins in front. Rehearsed to say, "Merry Christmas!", their

expectant grins were so wide they must have chilled their tonsils.

The mother appeared, a sad-looking woman wearing an apron, I remember.

She stood dumbfounded as I explained that we were Santa's reindeer. In a

flash, her five little ones were shivering beside her and we were all invited

to take part in the opening ceremony. It was hard to tell which set of

children was most thrilled as the wrapping paper went flying all over the

crowded, small living room, the toys lined up in the middle of the floor, for

the Sullivans had no tree either.

When we arrived home, there was no doubt...Christmas would never be the

same. At last, truly in tune with the spirit of giving, we made a pact; from

then on, there would be no lavish display of spending or of pretense. With

that, I tucked all five into bed, each

of them glowing with whatever makes one glow at such a time.

Then, I admit, I sneaked out to WoolworthÕs and bought one game and one

jigsaw puzzle. I didn't have the heart to deny my children the lone dollar in

my purse, especially because they fully expected to awaken on Christmas

morning to a barren tumbleweed. At about ten oÕclock I was a tearful wreck

when, as I was trying to piece together leftover wrapping, I heard a knock.

In 1960, you didnÕt ask, "who's there?" You simply opened the door.

There, standing in the darkness, was the most splendid specimen of Santa

Claus in the northern hemisphere, with a bundle on his back so heavy he was

buckling under the load. "Ho, ho, ho!"

As if in perfect understanding of my astonishment, he invited himself

inside and dropped his sack in the middle of the floor. He answered my

flabbergasted, "who...but who?" with, "Santa Claus...Merry Christmas to you

and your children."

Even more stunned than the mother I had faced a few hours before, I

fumbled from one bedroom to the other, tugging my bleary-eyed children into

the living room as tears dried on my cheeks. They awakened quickly at the

sight of the apparition that stood before them and, with squeals of utter

delight, they opened most of the packages then and there.

Sometimes words fail. This was one of those times. Still they fail. On

Christmas morning there were shiny new toys stacked up to the piano keys. A

lovely red winter coat with a fur collar for my eleven year old. Imagine.

For weeks I inquired of friends and charities but no one gave me the

slightest clue as to who had turned the tables. I would like to end the story

by saying I eventually learned who our benefactor was, but I never did. So,

to whomever you are, thank you from my heart for the loving reinforcement.

  • Yours was the real spirit of Christmas and the lesson will never be


the end

1999...IÕm reminded by my daughter that the difference between our poverty

and the SullivanÕs was twenty dollars! >>

©1972-2003 by Carl Franz & Lorena Havens