A Short Christmas Story

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I went to Home Depot on Christmas Eve morning to
get supplies for a weekend job.

As I parked my truck I saw among the dozen or more people loading their cars with stuff, a young girl with a baby weaving her way through the parked cars. I thought she was just another shopper looking for her car.

I parked and got out of my truck and I hear a choked voice behind me, “Sir… sir…”.

I turn around and it is the young girl.

She is small, maybe five six, and looks to be fifteen but her face has a weary, beaten look of more years than that. Her eyes are steel blue and glistening. Her clumsy mascara has smeared. Her nose, eyebrow and upper lip are pierced. As she wipes her eye with the back of her wrist I see tattoos on her hand, wrist and up her arm.

She is holding a baby, probably about a year old. His nose is crusted with dry snot. On his arms are “kiddie tattoos”, the kind you buy at the Dollar Store or get from 25 cent gumball machines. He could use a bath, but isn’t dirty enough to look neglected. She hoists him on her hip in her left arm as she wipes her eyes with her right hand.

“Sir…” She chokes. “Please….”

I reach over and put my arm around her shoulder. “It’s OK, sweetheart. What’s wrong?”

“We just moved here from Ohio. If I don’t have 38 dollars in ten minutes they’ll put all my stuff on the sidewalk.”

“Who is they?”

“The Motel Six over there…” she points across the freeway.

I have a short conversation with her. She’s alone, no boyfriend, husband or family. I ask how she’s feeding the baby and she says she has food stamps.

“What will you do tomorrow?”

“I don’t know.”

“Tell me your name.”

“Cindy.”

“What is your room number at the motel so if I can find someone to help you I can find you.”

She looks at me. I see a flash of streetwise suspicion in her eyes. Then she says, “238.”

I hand her forty dollars. She starts crying.

“Thank you, sir… thank you. I don’t mean to be rude but I have to go right now because they are throwing my stuff out.” She hoists the baby up and runs across the parking lot toward the motel. I turn the opposite direction and walk into the Home Depot.

I don’t look back.

I don’t want to know if she actually went to the Motel Six or not. I don’t want to know if she bought shelter for a night for her baby boy or a hit of crystal meth for herself. I don’t want to know if I was scammed by a band of gypsies or a young girl learning the ropes of panhandling.

All I want to know this day, the Day of the Nativity of God, is what it means to love without cynicism, to love the ones who will scam, reject and kill you, to give without expectation of reward or requital, to see the image of God beneath the scars and marks of human fragility and futility.

I want to know what it means to hope.

If I can get all of that for forty bucks, I’m the one who is blessed.

[from Lord of the Hunt and Other Tales of Grace]

Drawing by Steve Robinson
Drawing by Steve Robinson
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