Based on your feedback, at least a couple of you like hearing about my dysfunctional family more than I thought.
If you’re not in that group, prepare yourselves for a boring read. Last year, I had a story about Christmas Eve that I never published. Here it is.
Around every Christmas, I get letters to Santa from some of the less fortunate kids in our area and get clothes and gifts for the kids. I hadn’t told anyone about it until last year when I wanted my oldest daughter to help me. She declined. I made her promise to keep what I was doing a secret.
This year, I told her that she was doing this with me whether she wanted to or not. She then pitched a fit and told Mrs. WhiteCoat that I was going to endanger her life by bringing presents into the inner city where we’ll get mugged or shot when they see our car drive by. So I had to pretend I wasn’t doing anything of the sort. Once my wife left, older daughter WhiteCoat got a scowl for breaking her promise.
Christmas Eve rolled around and I spent most of the day running errands and doing a little bit of shopping. When I got home, the house was a mess, the dishes in the sink were overflowing, and the kids were sitting on the couch watching TV and arguing.
“Can we clean up around here maybe?”
“Um, helloooo. Can someone help pick up around here and maybe start with the dishes?”
Phineas and Ferb resonated in the background. No one moved. I went and turned off the television and began pointing at the bodies scattered about the couch.
“YOU! Pick up the floor. YOU! Stack the presents under the tree. YOU! Dishes!”
Oldest daughter WhiteCoat whined. “I didn’t make any of the dishes dirty. Why do I have to do them?”
Then younger daughter WhiteCoat mumbled “You’re meeeean” under her breath.
I went into my office and closed the door. I went on the computer and looked up the addresses of homeless shelters in our area. I found one about 25 miles away that was just for women and children. I called to see if they accepted gifts. Not only did they accept gifts, they had about 20 kids who didn’t have much. They were planning to have dinner in about an hour, then they would open what presents were available afterward. Perfect timing.
I went back in the living room. “Pick up those presents and put them on the kitchen table.” They all suddenly became quite animated and began cleaning the room.
“Presents. Table. Now.” I repeated.
“Why?” young daughter WhiteCoat asked.
We took some of their presents, added a few toys from our basement that had never been taken out of their packaging, and loaded them in our truck. Then we drove to the store and bought some more toys to make sure that there would be enough for everyone. We turned on the highway toward the city.
During the drive, everyone was quiet. Andy Williams belted out “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” over the radio. I remembered galloping in a circle with my brothers and sister to that song in our living room when I was a kid. I got half a grin as I watched wind blow snow across the road in front of us.
“Where are we going?” young daughter WhiteCoat asked sheepishly.
We turned in the parking lot of the homeless shelter. The entire block was fenced in. A gate swung open and allowed us entrance to the parking lot. The building was old, but not decrepit. In front of one entrance, a couple of men were unloading a washing machine from a moving truck.
The kids still had no idea where we were or what we were doing.
“Get the presents and bring them inside.” I told them.
“Where are we?” Oldest daughter asked.
“Let’s move it.”
A man unlocked an outside door and directed us through a hallway into a large room. There were rows of plastic tables covered in paper tablecloths. An elderly man sat at a chair on a small stage playing a guitar and singing Christmas music. About 40 people listened to him play as they ate dinner.
The cafeteria was clean and fairly modern. Families ate from plastic trays and drank soda poured from 2 liter bottles into paper cups. When they were finished eating, they put their trays on a shelf by the kitchen.
“We’ll wait until after everyone is finished so that the kids finish their dinner,” one staff member stated.
We sat there watching everyone eat. I leaned over to oldest daughter and whispered “Pretty cool, huh? They don’t ever have to do dishes at all. They just put the cups in the garbage and leave the trays on the shelf.”
She didn’t respond.
I nudged her. “Pretty cool, huh?”
Still no answer.
“Want me to see if you can stay here for the rest of Christmas break?”
She wouldn’t even look at me. I got up and began to walk toward one of the staff. Oldest daughter grabbed my coat sleeve. Tears welled up in her eyes.
“Stop it, dad. Just stop it.”
Then I went to Junior WhiteCoat and younger daughter.
“Kind of neat how no one has to pick up after themselves here, isn’t it?”
Neither one answered me.
“The gifts they receive tonight may be the only gifts they get for Christmas.”
They looked at each other and seemed eager to pass out the presents after hearing that.
Youngest daughter had a Barbie present that she was holding behind her back. “I want to keep this one,” she said.
“Just think of how happy it will make some other little girl who doesn’t have any Barbie dolls,” I told her.
When the children began wandering over to us, she pulled a three year old girl aside and told her “I have a special present for you.”
We passed out most of the presents. We gave the rest to the lady running the shelter to give to other kids who might not have been at the dinner.
The truck was quiet on the way home. But the kids had smiles on their faces and seemed quite content listening to the Christmas music. I hoped that they had learned something.
I had a lot of fun watching the kids open presents on Christmas morning. Junior got his XBox 360 with Kinect. He almost wet himself when he opened it. As they ripped through the presents, it seemed like our visit to the homeless shelter was a lot longer than 12 hours ago. I hugged and kissed everyone and then left for work. Yup. People get sick on Christmas, too and someone has to be there to take care of them.
When I arrived home from work Christmas night, wrapping paper was still on the floor and the sink was full of dishes. The TV blasted in the background.
I just can’t win.