Saturday, December 6, 2008

Christmas Cheer

Last night my Department, which is Recreation, swung into full holiday gear. Yes, I do wish they'd space events out a little, but that's not my call. So last evening we began with "A Walk with St. Nick", [which was to be followed Saturday morning with "Breakfast with Santa"] . Having had oral surgery twice in the last week and a half, I volunteered to stay and set up the kitchen rather than walk. So I was left alone with an Inmate [yes, as in lives at the jail full time] to begin warming up hot chocolate and apple cider. I wasn't worried about the Inmate. He's been with us for four years and when his time is up, there will probably be a maintenance position with his name on it. In fact, he's such a happy-go-lucky fellow that I've never felt the need to ask what happened. It's obvious from his demeanor that his past is something he's learned from and is not interested in repeating.

The Center we were using for refreshments after the walk isn't ours and belongs to another agency we often "team" with for events. Saves budget dollars. Located in a predominantly black neighborhood on the edge of the downtown area, it also has an apartment complex for seniors across the street. It never even occurred to me that someone might question leaving a black inmate with a white woman in such a neighborhood. We've worked on these events together for years, the Inmate and I. We trust each other. As the Center's Director left to go join in the Christmas tree lighting, this older black woman looked at us and said,"I'm not locking the door in case people arrive before I can get back." We agreed that was just fine.

As she walked away, she added with a shudder,"Wouldn't catch me in this neighborhood at night without a locked door!"

Ho, Ho, Ho. :)

In about thirty minutes, more co-workers showed up with additional food and questioned if we were the only ones there yet. When we said yes, she added, "What? You two didn't know to run the other way?" Neither of us bothered to answer. Soon the kitchen was filled and people were beginning to filter in. The decision was made to let the children and their parents sit and we would serve them.

Cue me as instant waitress, sandwich tray at the ready. Anything to get out of the kitchen and away from all that gossip!

Most of the kids were polite although a couple of their parents didn't exactly set sterling examples. One kid asked how many of the small sandwiches he could have. I told him two was all until everyone was served. His mother, sandwiches already in front of her, looked at me and demanded, "I need more." I smiled and joked she already had her limit. The little boy grinned and Mom pouted.

Tis the season to be jolly.

Back to the kitchen to discover the donuts were still sitting there while my co-workers were all trying to score a sandwich. I asked my Boss about the donuts and she looked startled, exclaiming we were to pass them out.

You know, I use to work at a donut shop when I was in college.

With my tray of donuts, I again split the room with the same co-worker who'd helped with the sandwiches. I made a beeline for a little boy who'd had to wait last for cookies, sorely afraid they'd run out before the reached him. With a grin I told him he was going to get the very first donut. Wow, what a smile! As I asked who at the table would like a donut, I was greeted with lots of "please" and "thank you"...until I got to the adult. Yep...Pouting Mom. She pointed at her napkin regally and I left one there with a smile. The kid said thank you for her.

Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.

Finally done with all my chores, I was about to find a seat when I heard my Boss and the Secretary saying, "Well, we'll let {fill in the blank with my name} do it." Turning around they thrust a book at me. Our storyteller never showed so I was given the task of reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas". I don't mind working, I just hate crowds. Standing in front of one to speak is my idea of hell and I only do so when absolutely necessary.

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring. Not even a mouse.

I know this one by heart, which was good considering I didn't have my reading glasses. Fortunately the print was large in this huge, old fashion story book. I was a little hesitant only because the two carols they'd been asked to sing along with a moment earlier had been less than half the room singing while the other half talked. Loudly. Standing in front of the tree I reminded myself that Christmas is about children....some who still actually believe in Santa and wishes and good things for good boys and girls.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.

As I was mentally wondering if the kids even knew what I was talking about it suddenly occurred to me that it was quiet. So quiet you could've heard a pin drop. Glancing up, I saw kids leaning forward, waiting for the next words. The mom next to me mouthed the whole thing under her breath. I relaxed and had a bit of fun with it. When St. Nick's name came up in the story, I'd point at ours and the kids would yell in unison, "St. Nick!" Then they would become silent and wait for more story.

At one point I couldn't resist teasing the co-worker who was under that costume...the old world version of St. Nicholas, not Santa Claus. He'd once been an inmate too and when he proved to be reliable, the Dept. had hired him. Sure, he believes he's god's gift to women, but fortunately I'm immune. So when I arrived at the part about reindeer,"and he whistled and shouted and called them by name..", I turned and looked at our St. Nick, as if expecting him to do so. Beneath the beard, I saw panic. I turned back to the kids and they all began laughing. That kind of wonderful laughing that only kids can do when they are truly happy.

End of story. So I thought.

This was followed by the carol leader asking for their favorites. After singing "Away in the Manger", she asked for another suggestion. A little boy raised his hand and said politely, "I'd like another story please." She grinned, asked for his favorite song. Ironically, it was "Silent Night".

Our finale? "We Wish You a Merry Christmas". Loud and joyful.

We live in a world of gadgets and gizmos which have replaced too much of childhood. I think my Christmas miracle, on the day we got that paycheck missing a day's pay, was to hear a child ask to hear another story. Read out loud. By a real person.

As I glanced at the Inmate in the kitchen and St. Nick as he stood to lead the group back to their cars it occurred to me that Christmas should be about second chances and new beginnings. The true spirit of giving has nothing to do with how big the box is with your name on it.

At breakfast this morning, a little boy stopped to say hello. I smiled and told him,"I remember you!" With an even bigger smile he replied, "I remember you! You read to us. That was fun."

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!


Susan said...

Oh wow. Now THAT'S Christmas! Crazy Rude Mom doesn't know what a gem she has for a son, I'll bet. I hope life's good to him and he goes far.

Congratulations on doing such a great job at reading, too. We're going out for Christmas and already I'm pitying the folks who will have to work that day, so that we can enjoy it. We'll be treating them as well as we can!

Thanks for the visit and the laughs.

Rachel Fox said...

You may have found your next job. 'Storytelling' is a real growing...field over here. Lots of schools have visiting storytellers, there are storytelling festivals, a whole storytelling centre in Edinburgh. Look into it maybe.

It makes sense too. I think a storyteller is just what you are. Each of your blogs has a story (rather than, say, an do have those of course but it's in the stories that you come to life I think). What a great job too!

hope said...

Now wouldn't that be fun?! To tell stories for a living instead of being a mere peon? :)

Dear Santa,

I've been very good. Well, considering the circumstances. Maybe Susan and Rachel can vouch for me.

Poetikat said...

Good job. I particularly liked how you made sure the little boy got the first donut. That was a nice moment.

I used to work as a Teaching Assistant for kindergarten kids and loved to read stories to them. It was my favourite part about the job.

Very nice post reflecting the true meaning of this season.


the broken down barman said...

been standing outside for half an hour in the freezing cold waiting for my taxi to turn up. just got in and turned on the computer. soothed my anger striaght away. seen so many children passing through the doors of my pub that could teach their parent(s) a thing or two. is unreal. loved the blog. made me feel nice, made me feel warm x x

Radge said...

I enjoyed this, Hope. At the start I thought it was going to turn into an episode of 'The Wire.' I did not expect Dickens. Good work!

Dave King said...

That is a fantastic tale, a reak himdinger. I am going to read it again. Thanks for posting it.

Ida said...

Such a lovely little story, I really liked it :)I wish you a blessed christmas!

hope said...

Hi Ida! You're right, it is the little things which count the most. Hope you'll visit again.