“Christmas is sights, especially the sights of Christmas reflected in the eyes of a child.”– William Saroyan (1908 – 1981) Armenian American novelist, playwright, and short-story writer.
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With every washed-out hole in the dirt road, my truck rebelled at the impact, tossing the front end toward one ditch or the other.
The weather outside was cold and rainy. Inside the vehicle, where it was warmer, I gripped the steering wheel in hopes the battle between my truck and the holes in the road wouldn’t jerk it out of my hands. A slower speed might have made the trip less violent, but it wasn’t worth risking getting stuck on the backside of nowhere in the far reaches of the county. In 1986, cell phones were still a part of Christmas future.
“What are we looking for, daddy,” asked son, Lee, then six, who is 41 as this Christmas approaches.
“A house down here a ways on the right,” I explained. “At least it’s supposed to be around here somewhere.”
“If we can’t find it, maybe Santa Claus can,” he replied with youthful optimism.
“Lee, if Santa Claus could find it,” offered his philosophical sister Robin, then eight, who is now 43, “We probably wouldn’t be hunting for it.”
At last, we found our first destination, a muddy driveway near three small, old, and unpainted houses. Each one had smoke curling from a stovepipe chimney jutting from some random spot. Small sticks of wood were stacked nearby, but the aroma in the air smelled more like burning garbage.
There were no yards. The houses were separated only by broken household items: washing machines, couch frames, bicycles, and a junked automobile or two. Surveying the “neighborhood,” I suddenly feared that the seemingly large baskets of Christmas toys and food we had with us were small, compared to the need.
Sunday afternoons like this were a regular Christmas season practice back then as a Center Noon Lions Club member distributing the civic club’s food and toy baskets. More often than not, I took my kids with me.
For just a moment, it was quiet. Robin and Lee looked, but neither said a word. Exiting my truck, I stepped from the warmth of my vehicle and into a sizable puddle of mud. Recovering from that, I looked for the door of the nearest house to verify our location.
A dim light shone through the window, and the muffled bark of dogs came from under the porch as I raised my hand to knock. Beside that dilapidated door was the rusted frame of a bicycle. It had no chain or tires, and lying beside it, was a worn-out doll.
In a window was a child’s drawing of Santa Claus with, “It’s Christmas time Oh, Oh, Oh,” in a youngster’s handwriting that I presumed to be the same child. At first, I wondered if it was a youngster’s misspelling of St. Nick’s Ho-Ho-Ho or a sad message of desperation.
Inside, family members huddled close to the wood-burning heater because more than three feet away from it, the temperature wasn’t much different than it was outside.
We shared the Lion’s Club basket with Christmas dinner fixings and children’s toys while visiting and learning everyone’s name. Then, wishing the family a blessed Christmas, we were off to find another location on our list.
As we were quietly traveling more muddy roads, Robin asked, “Why isn’t Christmas the same for all kids?”
“Well sweetheart,” I told her, “If we don’t get lost in the next hour or so, I will try tell you. But maybe during that time, we can make it better for a few of them.”
Prayers for a Merry Christmas to all through the eyes of a child.
And a wish for special blessings for those many individuals and organizations who spend their Christmas time and money trying to make it a better memory for others.
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