Christmas Tears – A Story of Hope/Love/Life

I was sitting in my room late at night, endlessly surfing the channels of my stunning big screen TV, cuddling with my affectionate pups when I got to thinking. As I looked around my sweet home that is nestled in a lovely quiet neighborhood, I had to reflect on how far I have come in this oft chaotic, crazy, fabulous life. You know I can go to the store and if I see something I can buy it. I can serve my husband gourmet meals crafted by my own two hands. I can soak in a hot tub that was lovingly installed by the Plumber who also is my love. I can open my closets and choose at a whim many lovely things to wear. How far I have come. I truly want for nothing….

December 1985, I was living in Cedar Rapids Iowa with my three sons in a 2 story walkup that was a converted attic apartment. I was struggling as a single Mom focused on trying my hardest to make a better life for me and my sons. I was attending Kirkwood Community College pursuing a paralegal certification. I had goals, I had hopes, I had dreams but I had no money.

Raising three sons sans support was grueling. At this time I was a full-time student and I was a recipient of public aid that totaled $375 a month in monetary aid and $150 in food stamps. As long as I remained in school, I knew that one day I could march my way out of poverty and become a confident and successful single Mom.

It was cold that December. The ice storms and frequent heavy snow storms were sweeping through Iowa. My flat had a faulty heating system. Very little heat rose to my space. But as my landlord told me many times, I only paid $275-utilities included so I could live with it. Many nights I would bundle the boys in their snowsuits and put them to bed so at least I knew that they would be warm. It was cold, so very cold that year. It was also the December that the State of Iowa had a glitch in the public aid checks. Normally they arrived like clockwork on the first of every month. With that check I would pay my rent, save money for gas, and buy that months food. Sounds terrible but I was okay. I took advantage of food pantries, I walked everywhere to save on gas. I had a plan for my future and I wanted to get there.

Waiting for the check to come through, I started out being patient but soon that patience started to turn into panic. Every week I would call the Public Aid office and was told the checks would be in soon. By December 21st I had stretched my food as best as I could and I had a brownie mix, a gallon of milk, dozen eggs, a pound of rice and oatmeal in my cupboards. I was scared. I had to do something. The local food pantry in that area was only open twice a month so if you needed help, it could be difficult some times.

December 21st, on that cold snowy morning, I went to the State of Iowa’s public aid office to find out what had happened and to plead for emergency help. I was given the standard, sorry check back in the next few days. I did not qualify for emergency aid because I was already a recipient. I think on that day the struggle to live closed in on me. After hearing “just wait”I sat back down in the rickety plastic chair in this office and cried. Not the sobbing type of tears but the slow steady fall of hot salty tears of frustration, fear and yes; pity. I realized I could not take care of my children, that I could not even feed them, that I was failing.

A secretary clicking busily on her typewriter saw me, stopped and came aroud the counter. She got down on her knees in front of me and told me that some day I would look back on this struggle not with tears but with pride that even through the worst of times I succeeded. She then patted my hand and walked away. The next two days were a blur. We fought to stay warm, we fought off hunger but we held each other close and waited for the food pantries to open which would the day after Christmas. Because then at least I could get some food. For me that was hope.

Christmas Eve of 1985 was one of the most depressing days of my life. I sat the boys down and told them that Santa may have to come to our house a little late that year but I promised them that things would get better – we would be alright. Christmas Eve I made oatmeal pancakes with pieces of brownies swirled in the mix. I melted some of the brownie mix with milk and made an actually pretty tasty melt to pour over the oatmeal pancakes and they were good. The boys played, I told them outrageous stories, built a snowman, we laughed and we loved.

That Eve, after pappoosing the boys into their snowsuits and settling them down for the night I reflected that one day I would never want for anything again. That one day I would look back and think it was all a bad dream. Then the doorbell rang.

In this part of Cedar Rapids, a doorbell in the middle of the night meant many things and none of them were good. I walked down the long set of stairs, hugging myself with anticipation, trying to see through the tiny front door window if someone was out there . I saw no one. When I opened the door – no one was there. I looked down and there in the snow on my steps was a very large box with a bow on it.

Gingerly I untied the bow and caught my breath. Suddenly, I did not feel the cold. I did not feel any fear, I felt awed because there in front of me were brightly covered packages, a ham, hotdogs, hamburger, milk, pampers, candy, boxes upon boxes of mac and cheese, rice, cans of soup, and the presents! Oh the presents! Big ones! Little Ones! PRESENTS! Toys for the boys, perfume for me, new coats and mittens, boots, games, a small tree already decorated. I could write on for paragraphs telling of the bounty that laid before me in the snow. It was if someone went through their own house and collected anything and everything they thought I would need!

My irrepressible son Timothy spoke and broke my stunned silence. “Mom! What is this?” “Who did this?” “Did Santa Come!” And then I saw the note along with $200 in cash. The note said “Never look back with tears” I think that my own special Santa knew how to type.

I knelt in the snow that Christmas Eve and thanked God for bringing a stranger into my life that cared and at that moment I swore that if ever I could repay the favor I would. I would not turn my back on someone but I would try to help them any way I could.

Now as I approach a new Christmas Eve, I am warm, I am loved and I am blessed. I have a special life with a man who loves me, children, who although are going through their own struggles, are succeeding, a great job with an amazing caring boss, my friends, my lovely home and I am convinced that although I went through a struggle in the past, I am proud of where I am today. I never saw that secretary again. I looked for her at the Public Aid office but never could thank her.

Christmas Eve this year we will have ham, tasty veggies, a lovely cake and maybe, just maybe a small bowl of oatmeal and I will think of my past not with tears but with pride.

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15 Responses

  1. Oh Judy, you do touch so many people with your love… Merry Christmas… You’ve come a long way, baby!! Dez

  2. holy crap – please post a tear jerker alert for posts like this!.. reading at work can be difficult – well written and moving… indeed we all have something to be thnakful for

  3. Oh yes, I agree with the last post. Here I am at work reading this lovely, inspiring story and I’m sobbing hot, salty tears. I’m getting a few concerned looks, but who cares! My story is not unlike yours, Judy, which is why I want to thank you for reminding me of how grateful I am to have had the experiences I’ve had to make me who I am today. I am truly blessed. Thanks a million!

  4. Great Jude How Our Lord Jesus loves you and you children that give u a love men. congratulation . Continue ahead and never forgive to talk with your family about Jesus and they will trust in their hearts too.
    you know how is the life and We need a helper, I have 32 years of marry.

  5. Your Special Santa recognized, and what we all must remember is that we have to give it away to keep it! None of this is really ours in the first place. His Blessings are abundant. Thanks for sharing yours and let’s remember “it is in giving that we receive”. (Jude – I bet that line just made you recite the whole prayer 🙂

  6. Wow, I did not expect such a response to this post. I was just thinking about a time in my life last night and poof! There was the story. Yes it really did happen this way.

    And Fee, that by far is my favorite prayer! St. Francis rocks!

  7. What an incredible story! Merry Christmas!

  8. Thanks Eric. It is amazing what a person can go through. Oh and by the way it was the Reagan years. That following Spring I got my Aid cut because I qualified for a Pell Grant for school. No money in my pocket, it went directly to the school but it was considered income. So, I struggled some and wound up working three jobs. but life went on and I guess those stories are for another time.

  9. Hey Jude! Merry Christmas and thanks so much for sharing this super story. Not everyone has struggled as hard as you have, but most of us have had our struggles. It all works to sweetwen the comfort we feel today. And those thoughts as you so eloquently put it, should remind us of how grateful we should be. Bless you and your family.

  10. John I usually see other people’s struggles and feel compassion for them. I find it surprizing that people would find my life hard and difficult because I look back at it as a grand and crazy adventure.

  11. Don’t know if this is about you, Darlin…but it is lovely. This year is one of the hardest I’ve seen since my boys grew up…I JUST found a job, won’t get a real check, am living with a friend who is WONDERFUL, makes me feel loved and appreciated and like I am with family, but…I remember having a job that paid well, and my own home. But you know what? I’ll get there again…and I’ll even have the man who loves me again, one fine day. Until then, I’ll count my blessings, and kiss my adopted nephews, and be happy with what each day brings.

    Posted by Be_anSidhe on December 14, 2007

  12. Thank you so much for this wonderful story of hope and love. I have posted it at work so that everyone can read it and be grateful for their many blessings and kinder to others in need. Have a wonderful holiday season, lovely lady! I am sure you will!

    Posted by Ruthenium on December 14, 2007 – Friday at 6:17 PM

  13. Thank you for posting this wonderful, moving story. It touched my heart.

    I am so thankful that I have not faced a challenge in my life that even came close to yours. I’m not sure that I would have been able to handle it.

    May you become richer in wealth than Warren Buffett and Bill Gates combined. (grin)

    Jeanie Bee

  14. Thanks Jeanie! any type of struggle is hard because it is your own. I made it through and many others can too. I don’t think I am any different than anyone else or that my struggles are worse. Each person and what they go through is unique. It is all in how you handle it and can move on…

  15. I will never forget what you have done for me. I have really felt in the past that no one has cared for me. Growing up I had my own struggles and now with my son I see how very hard it is to survive. Trying to make the right moves to make ends meet. Managing Julian’s asthma and just trying to keep my business sucessful has been a great stress. I have often felt like maybe i am not doing a good job or maybe i need to do something else. thinking I am not doing enough. That i am not a good enough mother bc I can not afford some of the everyday things for Jules.
    I have tried my hardest and always will. It is my goal and responsiblity to show Julian that he is loved.
    You have truely changed my life. I will stay optimistic and know that I am doing the best i can.
    You have turned a horrible year into a great. This christmas will be so special. I just wish there was some way i could repay you for your generosity. You are so loved. i thank you again Judy.

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