My wife and I will be dropping by Mullin's Crossing to pick up one of the newest "Bratz" dolls so that my daughter will not be disappointed on Christmas morning.
This year I will be home to enjoy every moment of the season with my family because I celebrate my first Christmas after full retirement. Fortunately, my pension is sufficient to express my love for my little girl by giving her all that her heart desires. Contemplating this blessing evokes a note of wistful sorrow from my own childhood.
It was the year of my own father's retirement from the Army, and my parents were having financial problems. Shortly before Christmas, my mother and father came to my room. Mom sat down on my bed and began explaining to me that it would be hard to have a Christmas dinner unless everyone helped out.
I can still remember my father standing in the background; dressed in an old pair of his fatigue pants, and looking down at his shoes as if ashamed to look at me. Then, in a low whisper, my mother asked me if she could use my wheat penny collection, my proudest possession, to buy some groceries. Her voice broke as she made her request, and I saw the tears well up and spill down her cheeks.
I was shocked, but my mom wouldn't ask such a thing unless she needed it so I quietly got up and retrieved the album holding the coins. As I handed it to her, mom's shoulders shook uncontrollably. My Dad held her and looked stoically at the ceiling as one lonely tear crawled across his cheek. Then, in a raspy voice, he promised that he would pay it all back one day.
His promise was fulfilled the following Christmas, after his death, when my mom bought me a small silver belt buckle engraved with the letter "J" and the date. I still have it, and wear it every Christmas as the last present my father bought for me.
For most of us, the Christmas season is a time of joy and delight; a secluded refuge of family togetherness in which we create life-long memories of love and magic for our children. But for those parents less fortunate, it can become an agonizing season of hopeless depression. As the single mother struggles to meet her economic responsibilities, she observes others getting ready to bombard their children with gifts she cannot afford. As the unemployed father walks from one business to another ingratiating himself to obtain a paycheck, he is witness to children excitedly sharing their Christmas wishes with Santa and his elves.
For such parents, the season is not a time of joy; it serves to highlight to their immeasurable disappointment, grief and feelings of failure. Nothing can be as heartbreaking for such a parent than returning home, day after day, to listen to the Christmas dreams of their child, secretly realizing that the child will wake up Christmas morning to tears and disenchantment.
But the tears and sorrow can be overcome by the true spirit of Christmas, that love which creates empathy in each of us for those less fortunate. And, in Columbia County, we are blessed with an array of individuals and agencies which stand ready to help us fulfill the needs of these children and their families. These agencies can, almost magically, multiply our small donations to create for these families some semblance of the legendary holiday season.
I implore each reader to search your own past for that one moment when your parents suffered because they felt they had failed you. When you have found that memory, realize that it only takes a single act of compassion to circumvent another child carrying such a memory throughout their own life.
If you wonder whether it's worth your time and contribution, remember that a small hotel in an obscure town once gave shelter to a poor young couple expecting a child. The child was wrapped in plain cotton and laid in a feeding trough amid straw and stable animals to keep him warm. And yet:
"...all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever were built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as that One Solitary Life" (James A. Francis).
(Dennis Jones is a Martinez resident.)
HOW TO HELP
Harlem Toy Drive - New, unwrapped toys may be dropped off before Dec. 15th at the Laurel and Hardy Museum, Harlem City Hall, or the Harlem Department of Public Safety. Telephone (706) 556-0401
Columbia County Cares - Supplying food for needy families. Open Tuesday - Thursday. Telephone (706) 541-2834
Columbia County Children's Foundation - Taking donations of money and meeting the Christmas needs of Columbia County children. Telephone (706) 541-2849
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