The Spirit of Christmas
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written by Ron:
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           My dad was my best friend. Every year, a couple of weeks before Christmas day, we would leave the house and go downtown to shop for gifts for my mother, sister and grandmother. I always looked forward to this special day. I was proud of my dad and enjoyed being with him. We shared the same sense of humor and we always wound up laughing a lot together.
           This particular year I was seventeen years old and evidently passing through the process of puberty. My body was changing, my thoughts were changing, along with my attitude. I was in high school and therefore knew everything about everything. . I look back with embarrassment at how little I knew, but how much I thought I knew. I suppose all teenagers must pass through this period of supreme confidence followed by a lifetime of realization about our lack of worldly knowledge.
          The focal points of our shopping junket were visits to JCPenneys and Sears. We wandered from department to department, searching for the gifts we could afford and would be appreciated.
           Finally, we were done. Our arms were loaded with gifts, cards and holiday wrappings. As we walked towards the exit doors we listened to the Christmas music flooding the store – Bing Crosby singing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
          Outside, a Salvation Army volunteer was standing by the familiar donation kettle, gently swinging the traditional tinkling bell. My dad looked at me and said, “Let’s help.” I wasn’t sure what he meant.
           He handed me the shopping bags he was carrying, reached in his pocket and pulled out two one dollar bills. Dad walked over to the kettle, smiled at the elderly man behind the kettle and said, “I hope this helps somebody have a nice Christmas.” Those two dollars were a lot of money for a railroad worker like my dad. I stood aside and watched my dad chat with the Salvation Army volunteer for a few moments and then he returned to me, taking back the shopping bags. I asked him what the old man and he were talking about. His answer was, “I asked the old-timer if he was going to have a nice Christmas this year.” “What he say?” I questioned. “He told me his wife had died five years ago and Christmas didn’t mean much to him anymore. Since then he’s been jobless and homeless. The only Christmas he has is dinner given to him by the Salvation Army.”
          I said to my dad, “That was really nice of you to put a couple of bucks in the kettle and to talk to that guy.” Dad stopped walking to the car, turned to me and said, “Son, we don’t have much, but there are some people out there that have a lot less than we do. It’s easy to help someone out. Makes you feel good too.” With that, my dad handed me his shopping bags again and walked back to the elderly man behind the kettle and put his arm around him. They talked for a few minutes and then dad returned to me.
           I never asked dad what the old man and he talked about.
          A half century had passed since that day with my father and I found myself at the mall, shopping for Christmas gifts.
          Outside of JCPenneys a Salvation Army volunteer stood in front of the kettle, gently swinging the tinkling bell, wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas.”
           I put my packages down, reached into my pocket and pulled out some dollar bills and put them in the kettle. I looked up at the old man behind the kettle and said, “I hope this helps somebody have a nice Christmas.”
           The volunteer said, “Bless you and Merry Christmas.”
           I picked up my packages and walked away when suddenly my thoughts went back to that day long ago when my dad and I were together.
           I walked back to the gentle-looking old man behind the kettle, let my shopping bags slide to the ground and put an arm around the old man’s shoulder and whispered in his ear, “I hope you have a nice Christmas and bless you for being here.”
           The old man stopped ringing the bell, looked at me and said, “Thanks for the kind wishes. You’re a good man.”
           I have a hunch that some fifty years ago, an old man behind a Salvation Army kettle said something like that to my dad.
           He was, indeed, a good man.
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