In keeping with the advent season, but still sticking with my usual habit of storytelling, the next three posts will be (true) stories from my life, set at Christmastime.
Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. Matthew 14:19
It was just before my nineteenth Christmas, and my boyfriend had driven to St. Louis from Springfield, Illinois, to visit my family and give me my Christmas present early. Being an engineering major, this guy did things in a more straightforward way than I (a theater major) did, and that day was no exception. When it came time to exchange our gifts, he handed me a wad of cash and informed me that we were going shopping.
I wasn’t as deflated as many women would have been at the “un-romantic” nature of the present. For one thing, I knew that my college sweetheart was not exactly rolling in dough, and every dollar saved represented a skipped meal. The gift he gave me was an even $100, which (trust me) was worth way more when I was 18 than it is now! Secondly, he had a certain look in his eye that told me there was more to this gift than indulging in a shopping trip to get more “stuff,” which even then I really didn’t need. I wondered what he was up to.
I stuffed the cash in my jacket pocket to keep it separate from the money I had in my purse, and we headed out for this mystery shopping spree. When we got to the mall, my shopping buddy led the way to the toy store and directed me to start picking out toys.
“Boys or girls?”
“Any age. All ages.”
Still wondering what in the world was going on, I joined him in browsing the multitude of games, gadgets, dolls and doll houses, toy trains, stuffed animals, and any other trinkets that caught our eye. If they looked especially fun, of course, we had to try them out, and I was starting to feel like a kid again myself as we laughed at the walking, talking, beeping, squeaking magic that seems to materialize at Christmastime. We took the most appealing toys to the checkout counter, and I paid for them with the money from my jacket pocket. The clerk handed me the change, and I put it in the same pocket as we headed for another store.
What followed was an hour or two of fun, sampling more toys, picking the best ones, and paying for them out of my special stash, until we were down to just a few dollars in my pocket. We used the remaining cash to buy wrapping paper, ribbon, and tags and hauled all our purchases out to the car.
I don’t remember when this sweet guy informed me who the recipients were for these toys, but I learned in the course of our shopping spree that we were shopping for Christmas presents for the children at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, where I had been doing volunteer work for the past three years. I was picturing the faces of those dear little ones as we brought one treasure after another out of the bags, and looking at the lavish collection of gifts, I was somewhat amazed at how many toys $100 would buy. In fact, I began to wonder if we had accidentally picked up someone else’s purchases.
We went through the inventory and remembered picking out and paying for every toy there. Oddly, when we checked the price tags, the items totaled over $125, not counting the wrapping materials. We got out the receipts, checked our math a couple of times, and the total came out the same. Somehow that hard-earned money seemed to have grown in my pocket. I got the feeling that Someone was smiling on us, and the little bit of “Christmas magic” was just the final touch that made it a perfect day.
That Christmas was quite a while ago, but I remember it well. What I remember most is discovering that my boyfriend was a good man with a big heart.
(Last summer we celebrated our 46th anniversary.)