I don't do Christmas cards any more, and this is why:
THE TRUE MEANING
1960. Divorce had nudged us into a regimen of forced austerity so that,
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
"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
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.
1999...IÕm reminded by my daughter that the difference between our poverty
and the SullivanÕs was twenty dollars! >>