She brushed the snow off her gray wool coat as she hurried into her apartment building lobby. The doorman greeted her with a warm smile and she returned the greeting as she made her way up the three flights of stairs to her apartment. She could smell the freshly baked scent of sugar cookies fill the air, as she guessed this delightful scent was coming from Mrs. Granger’s apartment. Christmas was tomorrow and she felt the holiday spirit all around town. Mr. Linden, the butcher, had given her an extra piece of ham, as he made jovial small talk in his tiny store. Mrs. Jennings, her close neighbor, offered her a warm knitted scarf as a gift for this festive holiday. And a warm thought crossed her mind, as she remembered being in church the past Sunday and the pastor giving out sugar canes to the children.
She unlocked the door to her small railroad flat and hurried inside. It was warm as the pipes hissed the sound of heat coming into the flat. She took off her wool coat and her hat and glanced into the foyer mirror. Her long blond hair was ruffled and she could see that her blue eyes looked tired. She had just passed her thirtieth birthday, with a big party her parents had given her. It was a festive party, with relatives, birthday cake and presents. She was truly blessed. Now all she had to do was find a husband and her life would be complete, she thought, as she made a pout smile into the mirror as it reflected back at her. She giggled to herself like a child, as she thought about tomorrow and the kinship she felt with her family.
Yes, it was a special time of year. Tomorrow morning she would gather up the small gifts for her parents and visit them for a special turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Her mother always made Christmas very special, since Mary was a little child, she had fond memories of many wonderful holidays. Her mother will no doubt have those special chocolate candies, the ones with delightful white sprinkles. Then a sudden thought of sadness rushed through her mind. What about those who can’t afford Christmas? What about those families who are seeing hard times? She had heard that many families were going to gather at the food kitchen on Bleeker Street for their Christmas dinner. She prayed the butcher and other storekeepers were especially charitable to those folks. She knew, however, that this was all in God’s competent hands and such matters are better left to the, “Big Boss.” But she couldn’t help feeling fortunate. She had a decent job at Kaufman’s law firm assisting the owner, a roof over her head, and food on the table. Many were not as fortunate as she was. What could she do to help those in need? She truly wanted to help those who were not as fortunate as she was. After deep contemplation, Mary decided to go out to the food kitchen at the other end of town and see if she could help in some way. She went to her cupboard and saw that it was sparsely stocked. But nonetheless, Mary grabbed a jar of strawberry preserves her mother had given her, dropped it into a bag, grabbed her wool coat, her scarf and hat, and darted out the door and ran down the three flights of stairs.
She hurried outside and into the snowy cold air as she made her way through the cobble stone street to the trolley car that just happen to stop simultaneously as she stepped onto the curb. She made her way in and noticed an old man stooped over, barely able to hold onto the trolley pole, as it made its way through the snowy cobblestone streets. She couldn’t help noticing he had a terrible disgruntled look on his face. His black tattered coat was well worn, but clean, and his boots looked as if they saw better days. He did, however, seem to have a new black scarf wrapped around his neck. He was mumbling about needing to get to the general store before the store closed, making hand gestures as he thought out loud. How odd, she thought, that this elderly man is brave enough to confront the elements to get to the grocer on Christmas Eve. And she thought she heard the word preserves, but might have been mistaken. He must really be in need of food and maybe he is poor and lonely, she thought. At that very moment, her eyes met his. They were dark, lonely, eyes that spoke to her. She could see the pain of years of loneliness. She could also see in his eyes the glaring power of a worried look. He has seen very hard times in his day, she thought. She had this gift, the same one her father had, where she could read peoples eyes; not all the time, but most times. She could tell this man was not happy. She smiled warmly at him hoping that he would feel the spirit of the season and for a brief second a wry smile appeared on his face and then disappeared as he made his way off the trolley. Mary decided to follow him to the grocer and see what he needed. Maybe she could help one individual tonight instead of going to the food kitchen where folks were sure to be helped. She didn’t have that much money on her, maybe twenty-five cents, but that did not deter her from her charitable mission.
She hurried off the trolley and made her way towards the general store, on a mission of mercy. She felt the icy cold wind sting her face and the stone cold pavement against her boots. She was happy to step into the store where it was warm and dry. She watched as the old man made his way around the store and she saw him pick up a few items. He put a small ham on the counter, along with bread, and a jar of strawberry preserves. It looked as if he would have bread and preserves for Christmas breakfast and ham for dinner; a sparse breakfast indeed, she thought.
The storeowner, a burly looking man, made some small talk with the old man as he announced that the total of his purchase was fifty-nine cents. The man put his hand in his pocket and came up with forty cents. “You are nineteen cents short,” announced the storeowner who did not seem to have a charitable bone in his body. “Times are hard for all of us” he continued. “I could give you credit, but you already owe me twenty cents from your last purchase. I am sorry.” The elderly man looked embarrassed and upset as he decided to put the strawberry preserves back on the shelf.
Mary could not believe what was happening, as she reached into the bag and handed the man the jar of strawberry preserves. “Please take this,” she said. “It is my gift to you for Christmas.”
The elderly man looked quite puzzled and for an awkward moment there was silence. He then responded by saying, “Dear lady, who are you and do you always walk around with a jar of strawberry preserve in your bag?” The man seemed very confused.
“No, actually I was on my way to donate it to the food kitchen, but I found a better use for it so please take it,” Mary replied.
The man was puzzled by this sudden turn of events and felt as if something much more important was taking place at this very moment in time. He felt a warm spirit of generosity and it was piercing his heart with much comfort. He was reluctant to accept the gift, but he looked into the young ladies eyes and could see that it meant more for her to give the gift than it meant for him to receive it. He could read her heart, it was a gift.
After a few uncomfortable silent seconds the elderly man smiled and said to Mary, “Dear lady I will accept your gift and say thank you. This is very kind and generous of you. Merry Christmas and God bless you.”
Mary felt this sudden feeling of luminescence fill her heart with joy and she gave a silent thank you to God for this glorious encounter. She smiled warmly at the elderly man and chanted, “Merry Christmas to you and may God bless you abundantly.”
The man walked out of the store with a look of bewilderment on his face. Mary turned to the storeowner and said. “Here is the twenty cents the man owes you.” He looked at her, scratched his head, took the money, and walked to the back of the store where a woman was beckoning him to come and help her with her purchase.
Mary walked out of the store feeling the spirit of Christmas all around her, but most of all within her soul. Her heart was filled with His peace and joy. This was what Christmas was all about, she thought, as she got back on the trolley car. It was about giving, caring and sharing. It was about love; the kind of love that is unconditional for all humanity, not just family and friends. It was about being human.
She knew she would probably never see this old man again. She didn’t even know his name, but she did know that the two of them connected into a spirit of generosity and kindness tonight on this special Christmas Eve, and no matter what happens in her lifetime, that will always carry around in her heart.