Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Season of Giving

The other day I was thinking about my favorite holiday memories, and while there were the usual things like going to my Aunt Pat's house every year for our family Christmas gathering, or getting to open just one present on Christmas Eve, or making the trek out into the snow to cut down our tree every year, I realized that there's another piece of my holiday memories that I remember pretty vividly.  Growing up, my dad was the president of his union at the paper mill he worked in.  Say what you will about unions, but their members usually have their hearts in the right places. When I was very small, the union would adopt families every Christmas and all of the members would band together to buy gifts for those families who had fallen on hard times so that they could still have a Christmas.  I don't remember a lot of the details of it, but I remember that every year my dad took me along when we delivered presents to these families.  I have very clear memories of going to visit an elderly woman who needed a blind person's cane (the kind with the red tip, my dad explained to me, so people knew she was blind), and I remember her smile as my dad explained what he was giving to her, and how many times she thanked us for being so kind.  I remember a woman who kept trying to hide that she was starting to cry as gifts got unloaded from the car and piled onto her doorstep.  I remember being four or five years old and going into my dad's factory after hours, through a different door than the one we used if we went to visit dad at work, which seemed like such a big deal.  We left fruit baskets on the desks of each of the secretaries the night before Christmas Eve so that when they came in on Christmas Eve, they would have gifts waiting for them.  I remember being so excited that we were leaving them a surprise, and imaging how happy they would be with their surprise in the morning.  It never clicked in my tiny kid mind that the union did this every year, and the secretaries probably expected to come in and find those on their desks.  All I knew is that I was playing Santa for these people, and it was awesome.

Sometimes my parents would take me shopping with them when they bought their contributions to the adopted families.  I remember them explaining to me that we had to find something that other families would like, and we have to think about what would make them happiest and what they would need.  Sometimes I was allowed to contribute an opinion on what we should buy.  I would stand the bar at the bottom of the cart, clinging to the end of the cart basket as they wheeled through the store, wondering what these people were going to think when someone came over and did something nice, just because they wanted to do something nice.  There was no other reason.  Just to be nice.

As the years passed, the union shrunk, wages didn't go up as cost of living did, and the years of charitable giving disappeared.  I'm not even sure any of my siblings were ever old enough to tag along on the deliveries before they ended all together.  But I remember it.  I remember looking forward to it every year.  I remember feeling happy about making other people happy, and although I didn't pay too much attention when it all ended, looking back I'm a bit sad that it did.

It's had me thinking lately about what sort of example I want to be to the young people in my life.  To my niece, my nephews, even Jasmine and Tori, who are pushing their way into adulthood but still young enough to be influenced by the examples around them.  On the whole, I can't remember more than a handful of gifts I received when I was little.  I remember ones that were especially prized, or that turned into favorite toys, and I'm more than grateful that I received them, but I'm not sure I remember any quite so vividly as I remember that woman smiling as we handed her a cane so she could get around more easily.  We didn't give her just a cane, we gave her some independence, and that is priceless.  We didn't just hand a bunch of wrapped packages to that mother who tried to hide her tears.  We handed her a reason to smile when life might not give her too many of those.  That is the example I want to set for the young people I know.  That giving of yourself, your time, reaching out to touch the life of someone else, that is what is important in this world.  It's through giving that we learn to receive with grace.  And it makes you appreciate what you have so much more.

Next year I think I want to gather some friends and adopt a family together.  I might not have the means to purchase gifts for an entire family myself, but I think that if I gathered a lot of friends and family together, we could change someone's life a little bit, if even just for one day.  It takes a village, after all.

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