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A Christmas Memory Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

25 December 2017

We usually start our day by rolling over in bed several times to squeeze as much sleep out of our body as possible. When we sense the last drop of unconsciousness has been dripped, we turn on the radio to find out what terror the East coast has visited on the nation while we were off duty.

1958 Plymouth Manual. We were ahead for keeps.

When the news segment is over, NPR broadcasts some interesting stories that get our wheels turning. The other day we heard a StoryCorps piece that brought us back. It began, "It was Christmas Eve in 1967...."

It's a beautiful story, quite in contrast to current events. But it brought us back to our own high school days when we had the keys to a 1958 Plymouth Sport Suburban station wagon with its push-button transmission.

Push-Button Transmission. Three-speed Torque-Flite.

It was the family SUV, still sparkling a bright red with a white top when it brought home our youngest brother just before Christmas in 1959, the three of us older brothers taking up our seats in the rear-facing back seat. And it had been put into service taking sacks of magazines to the Post Office dock on Wednesday nights when, hot off the press, Dad had finished addressing them on the Addressograph.

As a high school student at Christmastime, we always found some volunteer work to do. One year we sold Christmas trees for the school, which had its own lot. We had some pretty scrawny trees but we artfully embellished them by drilling holes in the trunk and adding branches from even worse trees. They sold like hotcakes. And never a return, either.

But the year the StoryCorp story brought back to mind, the school was looking for drivers. The plan was to deliver turkeys and canned goods to needy families.

Well, we had the keys to a station wagon, so we volunteered.

We put down the back seats so there was just the bench in front, the rest of the car all storage. And we loaded up with turkeys and canned goods. With a buddy riding shotgun reading a list of addresses, we set off on our mission of good will.

Back Seats. An observation seat, tailgate and cargo space.

How that list was compiled, we never found out.

But it was clear from the first door we knocked on that we were not expected. And the reaction we got to what we were delivering put those Publisher Clearing House commercials to shame.

No one said, "OK, just put it over there."

For one thing, we got the impression that most of these people were not used to answering the door. Not much good happened when they did, probably. They were wary. Especially of strangers.

We were wearing our high school jackets to appear harmless. And we were carrying big boxes and stuffed shopping bags. So the door was cracked open.

We don't recall how we identified ourselves but it wasn't as Santa.

Still, we couldn't have been more welcomed. And though we had nothing to do with the goods, we were treated as if we had. "God bless you," each encounter ended, in one way or another.

It would be misleading to say that by high school we had no experience of poverty or the poor. We lived in San Francisco, after all. It was as inescapable then as it is today.

But we were struck by the living conditions we encountered in our own backyard. Which was certainly not a ghetto. It was something of a suburb. But the poverty was pervasive, holing out in apartments, painted by the rain and carpentered by the wind, whose landlord never maintained the property.

Yet each of them were someone's home. Dignified by the people living within it. A young family with just one adult, an elderly person living alone with the heat off, all sorts of manger scenes. And our little gesture only affirmed their innate value. You matter to someone, our presence said.

And so, we recall, we continued our deliveries.

We were very cheery, we were very bright. We could have delivered turkeys all through the night.

Who knows, after all, how many other doors there were to be opened to a little goodwill ferried in a shiny red Plymouth by two young men?

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