This Christmas season, as I was doing my part to contribute to the overall growth of the economy, I saw a teenage boy ringing a bell at the grocery store. I put something in every kettle I see, but it struck me that this young person was doing this on a Saturday afternoon, so I had to ask him why.
"I could be home playing Xbox," he said, "but my mom told me this was more important." Truer words were never spoken.
In the early 1960s, my mom, brother and I had been living in Cleveland for a while. It was a difficult time in our lives, and I was most unhappy about leaving my grandparents and Buffalo behind. We held out for about two years before my mother decided to come home in November 1962. About a week before we left, our apartment was broken into and they had stolen not only our television, but they also took our Christmas decorations. Lights, stockings, ornaments, all of it! I remember Mother was most upset about losing our "Baby's First Christmas" ornaments for my brother and me.
We packed our few remaining possessions and my grandfather drove all the way from Buffalo to Cleveland to get us. I was never so happy to see anyone in my whole life.
We moved into a small furnished apartment in South Buffalo. My grandmother gave Mom some dishes to set up house and Mom landed a job as soon as possible. She was a proud person and would not ask for any type of handout. She prepared my brother and me for the fact that there would be no Christmas at our house that year. Santa would make it up when he could, but it just wasn't possible at the time because we had moved and he didn't know our new address.
Being 9 (me) and 3 (him) years of age, this sounded logical to us. It never occurred to me that Mom had no money and couldn't buy presents, or that we couldn't even decorate because, in many ways, our Christmas had been stolen.
But without all the trappings, we still went to church Christmas Eve as we always did to celebrate what to us was the true meaning of Christmas.
Cold, snowy and windy weather greeted us as we left the church and headed home in the dark. Stepping onto the porch, Mom told us to stay on the steps and she would turn on the light. Once she did, we were shocked. There were two large baskets and a Christmas tree on the porch. There was food and oranges and nuts and candy canes. The tree was on a wooden stand and there were two strings of lights and some tinsel. We had food for Christmas and treats. We were dumfounded.
As my mother and I brought the precious gifts into the house, I noticed two packages wrapped in Christmas paper and I thought, "Did Santa find us after all?" Well, apparently he did. There was a rubber stamp set for me and a small fire truck for my brother.
I don't know what charitable group became aware of our plight, but I will never forget it.As the Christmas holidays come again, remember those less fortunate or down on their luck. The young man who said to me "My mom said this was more important" reminded me that it was so true. Christmas is not just about presents, it is about kindness and humanity, too.