Tuesday, December 18, 2012
(A version of this column first appeared in 2002)
It was a Christmas season long ago; my wife and I had recently celebrated our second wedding anniversary. Our own children were yet to be when one single nine-year-old stranger taught us a dramatic lesson of Christmas love in one short encounter.
Every Christmas, the Jaycees in the town where we were living conducted a Christmas Shopping Spree for underprivileged children. The kids were treated to a one-night opportunity to buy themselves something for Christmas.
The Jaycees sold light bulbs door-to-door in the fall to raise money for the event. The idea was to divide the profits for each Jaycee to take a kid, who probably would not have seen a very significant Christmas, on a shopping outing to buy his/her Santa Claus presents.
My wife and I picked up our assigned recipient — a nine-year-old boy, Joey — and headed for downtown with a very excited child and a twenty-dollar bill. Twenty dollars would buy an awful lot in the 1950s.
Our children had not yet been born and the whole idea of taking a child on a shopping trip and playing Santa Claus was novel to us. So, when we arrived at the variety store amidst a host of toys and treats, we asked, “What do you want to buy first?'
We were surprised at his answer: “I need to get my brothers and sisters a Christmas present.” As I said, twenty bucks would buy a lot back them but this child, we discovered, had five siblings at home who had little hope for a Christmas present of any sort. We explained to him that he only had twenty dollars and he would have to be prudent to make the money go very far. This didn't faze him as he picked out a doll for his baby sister. An airplane for a little brother followed. Then, another doll for another sister and so on until all his brothers and sisters were remembered — one by one.
He was insistent, too, that each present be gift-wrapped with just the right touch — a pink bow for baby sister, blue for brother Donnie — because it was his favorite color and so on until every gift had been wrapped under Joey's personal supervision. The tag on each package read: “From Santa Claus” in Joey's youthful handwriting. He took no credit for his generosity. In fact, I don't think he thought in terms of generosity — but only in love and compassion. His love spread that night, as other shoppers, waiting in line for free wrapping, understood what was taking place and remained understanding and patient as they exhibited their own version of the Christmas Spirit.
And now we asked, “What about a present for yourself?' He replied, “I still don't have a present for my Mom and Dad.”
We were astounded. This kid had bought presents for all his siblings and now without a notion of a present for himself, he thought of his Mom and Dad, who had recently been laid off from his job,
After making choices for his parents — a simple screwdriver set for Dad and some bath powder for Mom — Joey said, “I reckon all of the money is gone and I don't really want anything for myself but I sure would like to buy a present for our dog if there is a little left.” He bought “Happy” a bright red ball.
Joey's supposition that the money might be expended was a gross understatement. It was gone after the second brother's gift but my wife and I were not about to tell him so.
We replied, “No, you still have enough to buy yourself a nice present,” as my wife checked her pocketbook to see just how much cash we had left of our own.
It was at that moment that she and I silently but excitedly knew for sure what our Christmas present to each other would be that year — a Merry Christmas for Joey and his family — no matter the damage to our young-married budget.
We shopped 'til we dropped. Dropped deeply, that is, into the true spirit of giving. It was an experience I would never forget and it fashioned our Christmas giving forever.
You should have seen the faces of Joey's family as we deposited him and his armload of presents at the front door of their ramshackle rural home. I don't believe that I have ever encountered such joy — both Joey's and his siblings.
And what did Joey finally buy for himself? A board game. He happily explained that it was something that he could share with the whole family.
We never saw or heard from Joey or his family again. But I truly believe there is a vibrant mature Christian Soul walking this earth today — spreading joy and generosity wherever he goes — just as he did that night long ago. I believe that most of humanity can still experience that same generous, youthful heart that taught a young couple the true spirit of Christmas.
Merry Christmas, Joey! Wherever you are.
And — Thanks for illustrating for us all that it is indeed more blessed to give than to receive.
John Brock is retired and lives in Georgetown County. He can be reached by mail in care of this newspaper or by Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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