Homeless but not hopeless...meet Santa Hootch.
"Hootch" Anthony Kalich exhaled and harmony wafted across the river. The bewitched harmonica wailed a soulful version of “Silent Night”. Tonight was Christmas Eve and homeless Hootch had a secret.
During these moments of musical prayer, Anthony deliberated the bureaucracy that flushed him from society. Anthony was not a lazy man who refused to work for a living. He had worked most of his 48 years, married 20 years to Virginia and provided a comfortable living. “Oh, sweet Virginia, you fought a courageous struggle, my love,” Anthony whispered between notes. His life had crumbled.
Virginia’s illness had created staggering bills. Desperately, they sought to conquer the vicious disease. Despite her valiant battle, Virginia lost the war. Anthony wrestled to live without her. He spoke to the heavens daily and vowed to make her proud.
Forced to sell their home to pay medical bills, he moved a few special belongings and precious memories into a small apartment. Shortly, Anthony's personal battle with chronic arthritis surged. Unable to maintain his job, Anthony applied for Social Security benefits. Droids behind desks determined his excruciating bouts with pain not severe enough to merit a pittance.
So on good days he searched for odd jobs. But these jobs could not gratify the landlord and he was evicted. Packing few possessions in a trash bag tossed over his weakened back, Anthony settled on a cold,lonely park bench.
Too proud to panhandle, he swallowed pain and found occasional handyman jobs. Days he couldn’t find work, he would journey on what he chuckled to himself a salvaging excursion. With only thing ever stolen, a shopping cart, he would prospect the streets for anything repairable to sell. Or, search for scrap metal to recycle. He soon discovered the choice dumpsters. Evenings, Anthony would entertain city folks with his enchanting harmonica for coins. Although a gentle man, he realized combat was sometimes the only means to defend meager wealth on the streets.
With rescued pieces of wood, cardboard, rusty nails and screws, Anthony patched together a shack along the riverbank in a “good” neighborhood. Down the bank from his recycled hut was a camp of homeless residents who soon adopted him as a brother. Anthony would wander down offering salvation pieces of wood or cardboard to help a neighbor patch a hole in his dwelling...his hootch. Through this act of kindness, his new family christened him “Hootch”. Never blessed with his own children, he quickly bonded with those in the neighborhood.
One afternoon, while exploring his favored dumpster, Hootch found inspiration…a bedraggled teddy bear. His thoughts turned to his adopted tiny ones. Christmas would be coming soon and little eyes would be searching the heavenly skies for Santa and his sleigh. He mused that neither homelessness nor poverty should keep Santa from caring about misplaced, little souls.
And so…Santa Hootch was born. Over the next few months, he lovingly searched for discarded childhood dreams. Forgotten stuffed animals were bathed with shards of soap in the river. Broken dolls were bathed and healed. Abused fire engines with muted sirens were painted. His shabby abode was transformed into Santa’s workshop.
Anthony gently laid his harmonica aside. Grabbing his warmest, red clothing and a fragment of soap, he headed to the mini mart a mile up the riverbank. “Santa can't smell like he's been sitting downwind of nine reindeer,” he chortled. The mart’s owner greeted Hootch with a wave and grin. He had gained the respect of many merchants as an honest, soft-spoken, humble man. After lathering up in the restroom, the owner offered him a bag of small candies for his sprites.
Dusk settled into the neighborhood and squeals of laughter could be heard as children danced around the campfire with their treasured toys. Anthony's neighbors waltzed and sang to the wail of his mystical harmonica. Blankets, gloves and socks, donated by parishioners of St. Thomas, were piled in front of tattered hootches. A wooden slab banquet table boasted sandwiches, soups, hot chocolate, coffee and cakes. He smiled as dear friends forgot their plight for one memorable evening. Through misty eyes, Hootch winked at the heavens whispering, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. I love you, Merry Christmas.”
Note from author: Story is fictitious but the names are based on real life characters...my dear ol' mom and dad. Lucky for my ending that mom's birth certificate reads Virginia, huh?...~grin~!!! Blessings and Happy Holidays!!!