The Holidays are especially difficult for many of our seniors. Children and grandchildren live far away, many friends have passed on…and the world has changed. No one listens to them anymore and they don’t seem to have any control over their own lives. .
This week while visiting with Anton, a very elderly client, I asked,
“What was your best Christmas?”
He sat silent and thoughtful for a long time. It was obvious that he was going back in time to find an answer. And finally staring off into the far away past he started quietly, thoughtfully,
“Papa didn’t let us celebrate Christmas like the other families.”
Confused I had to ask, “What do you mean?”
“Oh we had a tree and Momma would dress us up in our finest clothes and we all went to midnight Mass. But Papa always traded wine for the last tree on the lot, we never got to pick one out.”
I had already learned that “Papa” was a bootlegger during prohibition.
“Every year Papa put the same wrapped empty packages under the tree. The same packages year after year with nothing in them.”
Anton said he always imagined what it would be like to actually receive a gift at Christmas…a real gift, even a small gift.
Continuing he told me of one long ago Christmas eve.
Long after the sun had set and the bitter cold was setting in, a local district “big-big” as Papa called him, sent Papa a note. “Big-Big” was Papa’s version of the term “Big Wig”. The “big-big” had the note discreetly delivered to the back door of Anton’s family’s house. The note instructed Papa to deliver two cases of wine and a case of brandy to the big-big’s house by 6:00 a.m. tomorrow, Christmas morning. The big-big didn’t live in the neighborhood but many long blocks across town. Of course Papa was not going out in the slush and snow to deliver anything. The chore fell to Anton’s sloping nine year old shoulders.
Three trips it took, one for each heavy case, in the frost bite air to complete his task. The trips weren’t short, and Anton had to start a well before 3:00 a.m.. Through the frosted panes of the big-big’s back kitchen door Anton could see the glow of lights inside. When the door swung open wide to allow access for him to struggle the cases inside, the warmth and aromas of the cooking feast almost overwhelmed him. He felt that he could crawl into a corner of the toasty kitchen and die a happy boy.
On each arrival, more the worse for wear, the big-big’s cook would ask him to come in and warm himself and rest before his next trip. Fearing Papa’s wrath he politely declined and forged back in the dark and freezing cold. Slapping his arms to his side and scrunching his head into the collar of his too small coat, he mechanically put one foot in front of the other. After his last trip, clothes soaked, shivering and unable to feel his toes, the cook absolutely insisted that he sit in the warm kitchen and sip an almost too large mug of hot cocoa. The cook left him sitting in the straight back kitchen chair, his feet barely touching the floor and a small puddle forming below him as the ice and snow melted. The cocoa finished and his eyes growing heavy from the warmth and the mornings exertion the cook returned. In one hand she held a heavy envelope with Papa’s name scrawled on the front. This was obviously the payment for the cases of liquor. After the envelope was safely tucked into the inside pocket of his damp coat, the cook extended her other hand.
In it was an orange. Bigger and orangier than any orange he had ever seen. Even at Vocecks market. And the Vocecks prided themselves on stocking the freshest, largest and best quality fruits and vegetables. And of course, there were never oranges in his home. Of all things, an orange.
A straight pin was stuck through a loop of red ribbon into the top of the orange. This made it possible to hang the orange like a heavy Christmas ornament. But wait, as glorious as the orange was and just as unbelievable was what was protruding from the skin of the orange. Sticking out just a little below the ribbon was a bright and shiny new dime. A dime and an orange?
“This is for you and only you!” spoke the cook firmer than she had spoken all morning. “This is not for anyone but you and you alone. Not your Papa or Momma or brothers or sisters…just for you. Do you understand me?”
He didn’t know what to say, what to think.. The warmth, the smells, the Orange…no one had ever seen an orange as marvelous as this. And then a whole dime. He was rich! What he could do? What should he do?
“Yes Mam”, he stuttered, not sure how to handle this most unexpected Christmas present.
There aren’t many shopping days left before Christmas. But shopping for oranges in Southern California is not very hard. There is no doubt of what Anton will get for this Christmas, but I have decided to replace silver with gold. He had given me a wonderful gift.
Wishing and praying that you all enjoy the peace and joy of this Christmas season and please pass on this gift to your senior or any loved one by asking,
“What was your best Christmas?”