I was recently thinking of a time a couple of years ago. We delivered gifts to one family on a Friday evening, over in Minneapolis. They lived on the upper floor of an older duplex. 2 of the kids met us at the door at the bottom of the stairs and we carried the first arm loads upstairs. At the top of the stairs was the very nice woodwork, wood flooring, wooden archways you’re accustomed to seeing in those early 20th century homes. Immediately at the top of the stairs was a large living room and another large living room space in the middle of the house. Aside from the old radiator heater, there was an old loveseat and a couch in the first room overlooking the street. No rugs, no curtains, no end table, coffee table, pictures… nothing. A 4-year-old slept on the couch and didn’t wake up as we came thru chatting. Through the wonderful old dark wood arch was the second, nearly identically sized large room with 2 closed doors on the left wall with a good space between them. I suppose these went to a bath and a bedroom. There was one open doorway on the far end of the room which I suppose went to the kitchen as it had no door. In this spacious room was only a 3 foot tall pine tree on the floor between those two doors on the left. No decorations, just a tree. No rug again, no chair, couch, table, end table, pictures, curtains…. nothing in the room… just that tree… which at that size it would’ve fit on a table, but there was no table, so there it was, on the floor.
Standing between the rooms with my hands full of gifts, it didn’t seem necessary to ask where to put them, but I did just the same. The pre-teen kids made a couple trips back downstairs with us to get the rest. When we were done, the pile of gifts eclipsed the small tree. You couldn’t see it anymore. It was a stark picture. The empty room with now a pile of Christmas gifts on the floor on the left side of this big empty room. I turned around to face the first large room and the two couches, the 4-year-old was still sleeping somehow. She’s gonna wake up and truly think Santa was there while she slept.
This was the family where the grandmother had just “rescued” her grandkids from a tough situation out of state and was now caring for them. They had nothing. I made a comment on the t-shirt the boy was wearing, a band name on the front he couldn’t possibly know of as it was from my era. I was excited and asked where he got the shirt thinking it would come with a story about some uncle or someone he knew who saw the band. I don’t remember if it was his grandma or him that offered “WalMart. 4 dollars.” Oh, yes, of course. The kid was wearing clothes, not making a statement. He really didn’t have the luxury of making a statement. They were just clothes…. from WalMart.
I couldn’t think of anything else to give them so I gave the boy who helped us the Santa hat I was wearing. Juli gave hers to the girl. Maybe THAT will be a story he tells someone when he’s older and can return the favor to someone else. Meanwhile, the 4-year-old never woke up. Grandma was in tears, thankful. As an aside to this story, grandma didn’t sign up to be on the list to receive gifts, someone had done it for her. She was surprised and beyond grateful. The families are without exception, blown away by the generosity of strangers to them. It ultimately, IS what Christmas is about.
These people have nothing. Most of us have cell phones, cable tv, cars and we don’t think twice about it and worry about what vacation we’d like or boat or whatever toy… we are so fortunate that way. We worry about wants. This family literally, has almost nothing. It is, like every year, humbling and gives me a sense of how blessed we are and makes me feel guilty for complaining about anything.
I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been around so long now or because it really was a more difficult year this year for families here losing loved ones. I’d also like to say a few words to those families who’ve lost a loved one, because sadly, that person won’t be here to gather over the holiday. It is the toughest time of year for you. It feels like there’s nothing left in your tank. It’s hard to feel merry and like celebrating when it feels like there’s a big hole right in the middle of your Christmas wreath. Well, the same spirit that was gift giving for those families we ‘adopted’, is in all the people around you. Everyone really wants to help. Even though you don’t feel like it, please allow others to ‘gift’ you with a visit and their presence. It will not fill the hole. It will build a bridge over it so you can carry on. You won’t forget. The hole is still there. This won’t be the last holiday you work at celebrating without them. Let your friends and family carry you. We got this one.
Wishing you all a wonderful Holiday Season,