Spirit of a Christmas Past
Their first children came while he was enrolled on the G.I. Bill in a major midwestern university and completing his accounting degree in 2-1/2 years. By the time she was 30 and he was a partner in a major accounting firm, they had seven children. His drinking and violent temper worsened, they divorced, and he moved from one job to another until there was only his drinking; then he disappeared... physically and financially.
She had returned to work a few years before the divorce and now worked two jobs in the same hospital: 7:00AM until 3:00PM in the ER and 3:00PM until 11:00PM in the OR. The children – the oldest just 11 and the youngest 5 – learned to cook and clean in between the homework and athletics. There was no extra money for babysitters so they learned to care for each other. Even the double wages of a nurse with seven children to feed, clothe and shoe could not also cover the mortgage payments of the big, beautiful home in the quiet suburban neighborhood they had bought when he was the principle breadwinner, and soon the home was foreclosed.
No one wanted to rent to a woman with seven children, and she certainly couldn’t afford much rent. After a long search, she found empty law offices above an empty storefront on a major commercial street on the south side of the city. She and her children spent weekends that November hauling out the garbage and tearing out the extra walls in the old offices to create living space. There wasn’t much she could do about the hole in the bathroom floor, the rotted floor at the rear door or the live electrical wires that hung in the room that would become the dining room. She put a board over the hole, forbad the children from the room with the rotted floor and put caps on the wires.
The next year in that place went fast, but finances didn’t improve with the two oldest now in a prestigious academic high school; even if they were on scholarship, there were the costs of transportation, meals and uniforms. And there were the continuing costs of rent, food, utilities, and clothing for the other five. She had tried as hard as she could to put away little bits here and there, but there was always some emergency – a flat tire, a tooth to be pulled.
Still, that Christmas Eve, rushing home from work to the local department store, and arriving just an hour before closing, she began to walk up and down the aisles looking for things she could give her children – perhaps ice skates for the daughter who the year before had worn her mother’s size 10 skates on her size 5 feet to win a speed skating competition, a baseball glove for a son who wanted to play but was too embarrassed because he didn’t have a mitt… She couldn’t bear the thought of her children having another Christmas without at least one present under the tree. But as she wandered the aisles, she came to realize that the little money she had would not be enough to put a present for each of her children under the tree and she leaned on a display in an aisle and began to cry.
She could hardly speak when a manager approached her; after a few minutes, he took her to his office and offered her a cup of coffee. When she calmed, she explained her situation and continued to cry. He told her to just stay until she could compose herself while he closed the store.
When the manager returned just after 6:00 that Christmas Eve, she rose to leave and thanked the man for his kindness. The man took her by the arm and escorted the tired woman around the store and helped her choose one gift for each of her children. As they chose ice skates, a baseball mitt, a doll, she wiped away the tears and thanked him with each gift. He stayed and helped her wrap each present and helped her carry them to her old dilapidated car. She tried to give him what money she had for the gifts, but he refused and told her Merry Christmas. It was a very happy Christmas...
I miss you, Mom. Thank you for teaching us all how to count our blessings.