A (Very True) Christmas Story

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to one and all!  I thought I would take a break from all the exercising, and tell you a story about a Christmas event that I experienced many years ago.

Walking to school one day, it was easy to see the excitement on my face.  Now, most skinny second grade boys don’t get excited about going to school, but this particular day was different.  It was the last day before Christmas break, and that meant a Christmas play, singing carols, eating food and sweets, and last but not least, the gift exchange.  The protests over segregation had quieted down, and our new friends who rode the bus in to school were no longer escorted by the police or the National Guard.  I was carefully carrying the gift I selected for the name I drew (a girl whose name I no longer remember).  It was the game Candyland, and my mom made sure to use the prettiest paper and bow on it.  I was wondering as I walked to school who got my name, and what toy would I get.  Would it be a game? An action figure? A race car?  My mind wondered with all the potential possibilities.  I met my friends, both those that walked, and those who rode the bus, at the main doors of the school.  Everyone was carrying a gift, and we all were talking loudly and quickly as most second-graders do.

The day was a blur.  The play went as most children’s plays do, with lots of mistakes, many forgotten lines, and a couple kids running off in tears from their nerves.  The carols went by quickly, as the piano teacher belted out song after song on a somewhat off-key upright piano in the auditorium.  Then the lunch ladies fed us a traditional elementary school Christmas lunch, with turkey and stuffing.  We were then sent to our classrooms where we ate sweets and had the gift exchange.

The gifts were all placed under a Christmas tree in our classroom.  Our teacher started pulling out the gifts, calling to the child whose name was on each tag.  Once the gifts were passed out, we went in order opening them and showing everyone what we received.  The girl who got my gift was thrilled with Candyland, and that made me happy.  There were toys everywhere!  It was amazing to say the least.

Then it was my turn to open my gift.  As I started to unwrap it, I looked across the room and saw Jerome, one of the boys who rode the bus to school, and he eyes were wide with anticipation.  I knew Jerome’s family didn’t have much money, as he was on the lunch card program and got free lunches (breakfast too, if the bus made it on time).  Something told me that this was his gift.  I opened it to reveal …

A pair of brown socks.  The whole class erupted in laughter, except for me and Jerome.  Jerome was tearing up badly and looked like he wanted to run away.  Now, don’t ask me how a second-grader does what follows, whether it be divine intervention or the Christmas spirit, but I hollered out “Hey! I like these!  They’re soft and they will keep my feet warm.”  The classroom fell silent.  Jerome smiled at me through a tear soaked face.  Suddenly, the teacher agreed, saying what a thoughtful and caring gift it was and that I would be able to enjoy them for a long time.  The classroom, still silent, looked at the teacher as she asked the next child to open their present.  Before long, the classroom returned to normal.

As we were dismissed from school and walking down the hall, Jerome ran up to me. “Do you really like them?” he asked. “We couldn’t afford any toys, I’m sorry” he said.  I looked at him and said, “Of course I like them, they are nice and they feel warm”. I didn’t want Jerome to feel bad, even though it wasn’t the gift I was expecting.  Jerome said “My mom let me pick them out, I hope you like brown”. Now he was smiling, and that smile warmed my heart in ways you couldn’t imagine.  “I do like brown” I said, and then realized that we walked way past the bus stop.  “Jerome! You’re going to miss the bus!” I exclaimed.  Jerome looked startled, and then started running back to the bus stop.  But then he turned, waved, and yelled “Merry Christmas!” before joining the crowd getting on the bus.

I wore those socks on the first day back to school after Christmas break.  I wore those socks long after they were worn thin and bare.  I kept those socks in my drawer when I could no longer wear them, a reminder to me about that time and the gift I was given.  I kept them with me as an adult, until one move too many caused them to disappear, yet they remain ingrained on my mind and in my heart.

You see, what I wanted as a gift was a toy, as any child does.  A toy to be used and discarded with time.  What I received that day with the gift of brown socks was something that would last a lifetime … I was given the gift of compassion for my fellow man.  Even as a young boy, I knew the feeling of helping someone else feel better, of easing their burdens even if for a moment.  It was truly a gift that has lasted a lifetime.

I wish you all the gift like the one I received with those pair of brown socks.

Merry Christmas!