Prompt: "Name everything you've done that you're proud of."
Three events in my life come to mind in terms of situations and outcomes I was honored and proud to be a part of - oddly enough, even though I've never had children, all three incidents involved little ones. One, during my tenure as an E.M.T./Ambulance, was an emergency childbirth of a shoulder breech baby girl in the tiny bathroom of the single, terrified teen mother's apartment. Another occurred during the time I served as a police officer, and involved successfully (thank God Above) administering CPR to a 9 day old infant girl on the hood of my cruiser after stopping the vehicle her father was recklessly operating in what I then learned was actually a frantic race to get his daughter, in full cardiac and respiratory arrest, to the nearest hospital. I never got to meet the first baby nor even learn her name after her birth, due to the fact that she was given up for adoption. I did know the name of the second infant and spoke to her mother 18 years later, learning that "Baby" Jennifer was all grown up, healthy and robust, and a very happy young lady who was already entering college.
At the top of this list, in terms of how blessed I felt - and still feel, nearly four decades later, are the children of a little family I was granted the privilege of encountering long ago, right around this most special time of year. Here is the story of...
" One Magical Christmas "
Life is not simply the cosmic "filling" meant to span a given period of time between birth and death... it is, I think, a miraculous phenomenon we are best served by nurturing and diligently tending from the moment of its first, faint spark. Its roots, when sunk deep into well-worked soil, guarantee full and budding fruition, a bountiful harvest of the fruit it bears, and from that fruit, sweet nectar to be savored with relish by parched and thirsting souls.
Human beings are neither shaped nor measured by tangible acquisitions, for these can not be carried beyond this world or held close and cherished by earthbound hearts. It is treasures that cannot be measured in dollars and cents that make us truly wealthy for all eternity... it is their bounty that sees us through our darkest times and carries us on wings to soar above this world and beyond.
In sixty-one years, I've been privileged to gather up many such treasures. When I reflect upon them, a precious few shimmer beyond compare. This is the story of the crown jewel of their number, gifted to me one cold and snowy night on the eve of a magical Christmas thirty-nine years now past...
I was on patrol in Zone 1, which happened to be the area of town I grew up and still resided in, and was dispatched to a residential burglary in a low income housing complex only blocks from the elementary school I attended as a child. In those days, such housing was nothing like it is today; nowhere near as nice as much of the HUD housing and apartment complexes that presently serve in this capacity. In this particular instance, the housing complex was comprised of numerous, post-World War II military Quonset Huts that had been refurbished to accommodate low income families.
On arrival at their domicile, I learned that the charming little family living there was comprised of a 20-something mother and her two children, a dear little 4-year old boy with doe-like eyes, and a precious 5-year old little girl with a radiant, missing-front-toothed smile that could stop your heart mid-beat. Though attired in clothing obviously second hand and a bit frayed and worn here and there, both of these adorable wee ones could have just stepped out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Not only were they outwardly comely... an exquisite beauty shone from deep within they AND their mother, clearly evidenced in tangible personification of grace, unassuming dignity, and an abiding demonstration of sincerity, politeness, regard, appreciation, and concern for their fellow man. It was obvious that this Mother was sparing no effort in exemplifying for her beloved children unconditional love for others, self-reliance, self-sufficiency, selflessness, humility, impeccable manners and character, and abiding faith and hope.
Their home was very modestly furnished, yet clean, cozy, and inviting. In the living room stood a relatively small, fresh-cut Christmas tree whose marked-down-priced, flawed shaping had been artfully transformed into a thing of pure and innocent loveliness by the home-made green and red construction paper chains, popcorn strings, hand-tied ribbon bows, hand-drawn and fashioned "ornaments", and pine cones collected in a nearby wooded area, then carefully festooned with sparkling glitter. The only thing resting upon the snow white sheet skirting the tree were all the figures of a Nativity Scene ~ Baby Jesus in His manger, Mary, Joseph, cattle, a donkey and sheep in the stable, adoring Angels and Shepherds kneeling outside, and the Three Wise Men approaching on their camels. Several of the once carefully arranged, perfectly centered Scene's figurines had been knocked askew by the intruder as he stole the few meager presents the mother had been able to afford for the kidlets. Additionally, he'd ransacked both the Mother's and the children's bedrooms, stealing $18.00 in cash that Mom had tucked away in a dresser drawer and pilfering both of the children's piggy banks and the money contained therein.
It was apparent from the smooth finger-smudges left on the broken window and sill where the burglar gained entry that he was gloved, and it was therefore pointless to request the scene be processed for fingerprints, heaping even more disarray and cleaning chores upon the single, working Mom. So when she asked how long I needed her to leave everything as it was for processing, I went ahead and took some quick photographs of the indoor and outside evidence and cleared the scene, meaning it no longer had to be preserved. Upon hearing this, the very first thing the children did was carefully set all the Creche Scene figurines back to rights.
The family's husband and father had left them three years before, and the Mother reported she'd been gone all day at her job as a housekeeper, picked up her children at the sitter's, and then arrived home at around 7:30 PM to discover the burglary. By the time I arrived ten minutes later, it was already growing dark outside and was just beginning to snow. After completing the crime report, I helped her cut up an old cardboard box and snuggly fit several, cut-to-size, corrugated layers into the broken window's frame, then locked it once again as it had been before the breaking and entering. As I prepared to return to patrol, the Mother and the children all gave me a peck on the cheek and a thank-you hug good-bye. They were going to go to Midnight Christmas Eve Services, the Mother told me, and then would be coming home for the rest of the night. I assured her that we'd assign saturated patrol to her area until she could afford to get the window repaired, and the enchanting little girl piped up, saying, " It's okay, Mommie, Santa can still come if the police are watching over us... he won't have to be afraid of the burglar, either! " The Mother answered her that even if Santa couldn't come, they'd still be together for Christmas, called the children's attention to how heavily and prettily the Christmas snow was falling, and told them how much fun they were all going to have spending all of Christmas Day together, making snowmen and snow angels and playing in the snow.
I left that humble abode in utter awe... and moved beyond description by the immense measure of quiet, humility-infused grace I'd witnessed therein. And I decided that Santa would visit this home and magical family this very night, come hell or high water.
The only store open on Christmas Eve at that hour was a Rexall ~ in those days, the equivalent of a Rite-Aid or Walgreen's, carrying everything under the sun from clothing to lunch meat, bread, snack items, and dairy products, plus your expected inventory of health aids and a pharmacy. I'd learned that the little girl adored baby dolls, Play Dough, and stuffed teddy bears, and the wee feller loved Hotwheels, motorcycles, miniature metal cars, Legos, and sidewalk roller skates. (He'd broken a wheel on his old pair and had asked Santa for new ones).
Because I was single and had no children of my own, I'd never really paid much attention to what toys Rexall carried, but I knew they did carry at least some, and was hoping for the best. I made a beeline for the store.
And boy, was my wish granted! The place was a virtual Toyland, stocked for Christmas with many toys, candy, cookies, etc., in a far greater selection than what they normally carried. I found a large, bottle-drinking, open-and-close-eyed baby doll set, inclusive of a bassinet that doubled for a darling little bathtub, a receiving blanket, cloth diapers, a one-sie, an additional two sets of clothes, and a rattle and baby bottle. I also spotted several additional outfits with matching bonnets, a rocking cradle and a large baby doll crib sold separately from the starter set, plus a gorgeous stuffed panda and a plush pink teddy bear that was nearly as big as she was. Finally, there on a shelf before my very eyes, I spied a Play Dough press and cookie cutter set, complete with full-sized cans of Play Dough in all four colors, a press for creating all sorts of 3-dimensional "artistry" (including hand-made Christmas ornaments), and a sizable assortment of plastic, primary-color-hued cookie cutters in a variety of shapes and sizes. For the little boy, I found a miniature car racing set, complete with a track that could be configured in multiple ways, and a dozen brightly colored "racing cars" in numerous automobile "makes" and "models". I couldn't resist an off-brand set of similar cars that came with a multi-tiered parking garage and gas station, a toddler-sized, ride-able plastic "motorcycle", a killer Lego Construction set,and a super pair of stainless steel, adjustable foot-plate, leather-strapped roller skates. Quickly gathering up and adding three big, treat-and-small-toys-packed, decorated stockings, two Christmas cards, two adorable piggy banks, a couple of bags of bows and ribbons, and green and red felt marking pens to the top of the pile, I scooted on up to the front register and checked out. I'd called the Dispatcher and told her where I'd be, finishing up some last-minute Christmas shopping, and because our call volume was practically nil, she said take all the time I needed, just keep my portable radio on in case the need to dispatch me to a call arose. It was Christmas Eve and as usual, my city was was quiet as a mouse anyway, so I had no calls waiting when I left the store.
From there I radio-requested permission for lunch hour, which was granted. I hustled over to my house, hurriedly removed all price stickers/tags and affixed bright ribbons, bows, and name tags signed by Santa to all the gifts, raided my cash stash, and popped six $20.00 bills into the envelope with its accompanying Holiday greeting card entitled, "Christmas Magic". In the Christmas card for the children was a note from Santa, commending them for loving their Mama so much and being such a good girl and boy, their wonderful manners, how smart and beautiful they both were, and what a wonderful Mommy God had given them, plus two $10.00 bills to put in their new piggy banks. He also told them he was sorry their presents weren't necessarily wrapped because most of his Gift Wrapping Elf Staff was sick in bed with a cold this year.
Everything was stashed in my cruiser with another 30 lunch hour minutes to spare when a last-minute thought occurred to me...
There was a small turkey thawing in my refrigerator, with loads of eggnog, cranberry sauce, green and black olives, green onions, the ingredients for stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, Christmas cookies, pumpkin pie, and Cool Whip laid in to prepare for myself for Christmas Day... but there was also still time to volunteer for a double shift on Christmas, which was falling on my regularly scheduled day off that year, thus freeing up two other officers with families and children to have Christmas Day off. So who needed a turkey and such? I tossed all the edible goodies in a box and heaved THAT into my cruiser, as well.
It was smooth sailing from then on... I called Dispatch, asked her to notify the Watch Commander I'd be volunteering for the double shift tomorrow, and advised her I'd be clearing my lunch hour at the proper time by radio, but might need a little time afterward to finish up a personal matter in my assigned Zone. Again, she told me that mine were the only two phone calls she'd taken in the past two hours and to just make sure I kept my mobile radio on when out of the cruiser.
"Away in a flash" my patrol car then flew! (Though, given that the little family lived less than five minutes away from me, it was a brief flash, indeed.) I carefully pushed in the cardboard we'd fitted over the broken window, scrambled through it, and unlocked the front door from the inside. It was nearly 11:00 P.M. by now... the family would be returning from Midnight Services soon. A peek into their refrigerator confirmed that, sure enough, no Christmas bird awaited therein. Perfect! I arranged the gifts under their sweet little tree, sat their stockings on the sofa cushions, stocked the refrigerator with the bow-bedecked turkey and all the fixin's for a Christmas dinner, leaving the Mother's card and note from Santa propped against the turkey, then pyramided the dry and canned goods for the meal on the kitchen table. Replacing the cardboard in the window, I re-locked the door on my way out, made like the all-famous hockey player, and got the puck outta there.
On pulling away, though, I spotted something that made me freeze. My fresh tracks in the snow! NOW what?
It occurred to me that my footprints were quite small, though; so much so that my fellow officers used to make fun of them when I arrived at a call before they did and left diminutive tracks behind. I broomed away the footprints leading to and under the window as well as my cruiser's tire tracks, but left the prints leading to and away from the front door as they were, using my nightstick to additionally create "sleigh runner tracks" and eight sets of "reindeer paw prints" a short distance from the house. (I didn't have to worry about Santa landing on the rooftop, because it was a rounded Quonset Hut-type roof and it made sense that Santa would, for safety reasons, land his sleigh on the front lawn, instead.)
After radioing in clear of my lunch hour, all remained peaceful and quiet for the duration of my Christmas Eve shift, enabling me to park behind a building where I could see their humble abode but not be seen until that dear little family came home from church. Though much too far away from them to hear anything, I could discern two very small and one adult silhouette behind the curtained living room window, scampering back and forth and apparently making quite merry...
But God and all His Angels know that of the four people involved in this lovely scenario, it was surely I who experienced the greatest measure of joy.
I saturated patrol in their area for the remainder of my shift that evening, during both shifts on Christmas, and on the following night, when I noted that the family's window had been repaired and the cardboard "patch" was no longer there. And though I never saw or spoke to any of these three wondrous, incredibly dear and loving people again, I'm as certain as I am of my own name that they went on to bring much joy, goodness, and love into this world. I also know they gifted me with the most marvelous and cherished Christmas of my entire life thus far... and I'd like to think that for all of them and those they love, Santa Claus will forever be alive and real.
That beautiful little family on that long-ago night will always remain my most cherished treasure... in worldly life and for all eternity beyond.