by Tara Don Shields
It was 1980. I was 7, and we lived in a small town in Colorado. My father, a construction worker, had injured his knee at work badly enough that it required surgery and almost a year of rehabilitation therapy. Because his knee had been previously injured in high school, the company claimed it was a pre-existing condition and would not pay for his surgery and rehabilitation.
My father was unable to work, and my mother was a stay-at-home mom, so she didn’t have a paycheck coming in either. We were relying on our savings and the money my mother could earn by babysitting children in the neighborhood, but there wasn’t very much to spare, and the doctors’ bills were piling up.
Shortly before Christmas, my parents sat us five kids down and explained that there wouldn’t be much of a Christmas that year. They were sorry, but there was just no money for presents. We could each ask Santa for a small gift, but that was all we would be able to have that year. I remember being sad and disappointed.
Christmas morning came, and we got up early to see if Santa had come. In the living room of our house were our few presents and a stocking for each of us with some candy and fruit. Beneath the tree were only a few wrapped gifts.
It was tempting to feel sorry for ourselves, but we could be grateful that at least we had a warm house to live in and food to eat.
A bit later, the doorbell rang. On the front porch was a large box wrapped in Christmas paper. I remember the feeling of excitement and amazement when we saw that big box covered in bright paper. We looked around trying to find the people who had left it, but no one was there. Mystified, my parents brought it inside and all the kids tore into it. Inside we found toys, clothes, and food for the entire family.
Apparently, someone from the neighborhood had seen my family’s struggle and gathered these items for us. What’s more, they had left their own Christmas celebration on a cold morning to bring Christmas cheer to us.
The items they brought us that Christmas morning were nothing especially valuable or exciting, but the love in that package was a priceless gift. Every year as Christmas approaches, I see the donation centers and gift registries set up for those less fortunate. I always do my best to contribute at least a little, because I remember what an enormous difference that can make in a family’s life.