Thursday April 24, 2014

Random Acts of Christmas: Treasures to spare

Cliff Hatcher’s mother, Rose Payne, and in the mask is his aunt, Doris Elliott.

This is the time of year when charitable acts seem to be a little easier, when kind thoughts seem to come a little faster and the spirit of the season makes people smile a little more often.

Above and beyond all the charitable giving, there are the little things going on that we don’t hear about. The person who shovels snow for an elderly neighbour. The child who buys a toy for another in need. The hot chocolate bought and paid for ahead of you in the drive-thru.

We asked readers to submit their Random Acts of Christmas and they came through. We got stories, new and old, that illustrate the heart of the holidays.

* * *

Treasures to spare

Anyone entering my mother’s house for the first time would be forgiven if they believed they’d entered a hoarder’s den.

No matter where you turn, there’s stuff. A motley assortment of Toby mugs people the wall, curios crowd tables, books stacked thigh-high and 200 troll dolls loiter upon the mantel.

And every little thing is, in my mother’s words, another treasure.

But as I understand hoarders, my mother cannot be one: if you happen to look twice at an object, treasure or not, she’ll offer it to you. It’s a chore, actually, to get away without an armload of things.

She’s always been this way, but I guess I didn’t really realize it until I was 14.

During the Christmas break of 1983, some friends and I were out in the driveway one frigid afternoon playing ball hockey when I noticed a city bus coming down the street and my mother in the front window of it.

I couldn’t tell what she was up to at first; she appeared to be waving at me. But that wasn’t the case.

Instead, she was wiping the condensation from the window, with paper towels she’d purchased from Giant Tiger, her favourite store. Turns out, the driver was having a dickens of a time, seeing through the steamy windows, until my mother hopped up from her seat, broke out a roll and went to work. She did this from downtown Ottawa all the way out to the suburb where we lived. And she left the paper towels so another passenger could take her place.

Truth is, I don’t think my mother’s real problem is hoarding. I believe she simply doesn’t have enough visitors. So if you’re ever up in the Comox area, and you find you might need something, a bit of paper towel or a chandelier (or a troll doll), ask around for my mother. She always has treasures to spare.

— Cliff Hatcher

Carolyn’s Christmas gift

In 2005, my sister Carolyn, who lives in Vancouver, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

The disease progressed rapidly, and by December 2006, she had lost most of her vocabulary, wasn’t able to drive and had trouble comprehending simple conversations.

She insisted on wearing an old ski jacket and beat-up sneakers, her posture was hunched and she shuffled when she walked. People looked at her oddly when they passed her in the street.

But she loved to be taken out sightseeing, so I took her and our mother, who was in her 90s and used a walker, to Oakridge Centre mall in Vancouver. Carolyn carried two twenties in her hand to buy “Christmas stuff.”

For those of you haven’t been there, Oakridge Centre at Christmas is a sight to behold, with twinkling lights, music, a huge Christmas tree, Santa Claus and more.

As we made our way down the concourse, my mother, who was a child of the Depression and wouldn’t part with a nickel, picked up articles of clothing, complained about the price and disdainfully tossed them back.

My sister just gazed around in wonder.

Then we heard a bell being rung and spotted a Salvation Army volunteer, complete with Santa hat, presiding over his donation kettle. As we approached, he gave Carolyn a big smile and wished her Merry Christmas.

Without pausing, she marched over to his kettle and deposited her $40, smiled back at him and then looked at me. Not to be outdone, I deposited $40 as well. She gave me a high five.

Our frugal mother’s mouth dropped open in horror, her disapproval at such folly. I turned her walker toward the food court and reminded her that A&W had a coffee and Christmas cake special and I was buying. She paused for a moment, then headed briskly — as briskly as someone with a walker could move — toward the restaurant.

We sat and enjoyed our coffee and Christmas cake amid the cacophony of noise that a mall generates. A good time was had by all.

— Mary Barquest

Grief turns to caring

It was two weeks before Christmas as the three friends huddled over cups of coffee at the local coffee shop. As the frantic Christmas crowds swirled around them, they quietly communed. Tears were shed, stories and memories were shared.

They were in a collective state of shock and grief over the unexpected death of a dear friend — a friend they had all shared for 40 years.

Only days before, the friends had been enveloped in the Christmas chaos, feeling stressed and over-extended. Now, all that mattered was their grief and how they could make sense of their loss. Their friend Ann had been a vibrant, healthy person; the last one they ever thought would die first.

Sentiments of disbelief and questioning crept into their conversation. Thoughts of “Why her?” and “One never knows what lies ahead, so we must live every day as if it is our last,” were voiced.

“At the end of the day what is really important?” questioned another.

The friends began to wonder how they would now continue on with Christmas preparations amidst their grief.

“Ann would want us to enjoy this season, finding meaning in the true spirit of Christmas, not stressing over the mundane details we task ourselves to complete. In order to honour her memory, what is it we can do during this special season?” pondered one of the friends.

The next day found the three friends gathering mittens, toques, warm socks and scarves. They made a trip to a downtown church where they created Christmas packages to give as gifts to the people who would be attending the PIT Stop Christmas dinner on Sunday.

They volunteered to help with the preparation and serving of the meal, an event for People in Transition — people down on their luck, living on the street, people recovering from or living with addiction and people just having trouble making ends meet.

These people would be coming for a hot turkey dinner and a place where they felt cared for.

For the three friends, grief had been transformed into actions of love, hope and peace; the true spirit of Christmas.

—  Donna Vernon

* * *

Booster club helps a grateful family

Two years ago, I moved out of my mother's home with my family and into an apartment with my fiancé.

He was attending school to become an electrical apprentice. We had two small children and I was pregnant with my third. I was working as many hours as my job would allow, but being so new to our living arrangements and with money so thin, we were going to keep things small.

One day in early October, after just moving, I was unpacking boxes when the phone rang. The director of my children's daycare had called to tell me that my children's teachers had recommended my family for a Christmas hamper and that she wanted my blessing to recommend us to the Blazers Booster Club. I was speechless. I actually started crying on the phone.

She told me it was OK. I said I am very grateful, but we have family and would likely be able to get by on what we had. She was insistent that the daycare at least put our names forth and if they were able, the booster club would contact us.

I barely knew the director, but I had become friends with the teachers and I couldn't say no.

I got the call and the lady from the booster club was so caring, and eager to help my small family have its first Christmas in our new home. Her excitement was contagious. I agreed and answered all of her questions.

When we got our Christmas hamper, there were even gifts from Santa for our unborn child who wasn't due until April. I was amazed. We hadn't even talked about my pregnancy, yet somehow they knew.

I am forever grateful for how they happened. I hope one day I can repay the kindness shown to my family.

— Mandy Fonos

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