I was in the Coast Guard Reserve at this time. I had submitted application after application requesting transfer to active duty and all had been turned down, there were no openings. My civilian job was in jeopardy, the company was in serious trouble, facing bankruptcy and as a result, my hours had been cut to just 15 to 20 a week. My last paycheck had bounced. Searching for other employment had been an exercise in futility.
At the fast food restaurant up the street, all decorated for Christmas, was the Giant Christmas Stocking, perched behind the counter. It was eight feet tall and was filled with all kinds of toys and games. A box was placed on the counter to put entries for the contest to win the stocking.
Marti and I looked longingly at that stocking, hoping beyond all hope that we could win it. Then we'd have gifts for our kids for Christmas. We carefully filled out our entry, stuffed it in the box and kept our fingers crossed that we'd get the good news that the stocking was ours.
It was not to be, someone else won the stocking. Our Christmas hopes were dashed.
A few days before Christmas, our doorbell rang. I opened the door to see the pastor of our church. He knew that we were in a bad spot for Christmas. In his arms was the Giant Christmas Stocking! To our amazement, he told us that someone in our church had, on a whim, entered the contest to win the Giant Christmas Stocking and won it. Because they had no children, they called the pastor and asked him if he knew of anyone that could use the stocking. He said he did and brought us the stocking. We had Christmas presents for our kids!
The story doesn't end there. A couple of hours later, Santa Claus rolled up to our house on a firetruck and dropped off more toys for our kids and a bunch of gift coupons for food from the local food market down the street. We didn't know that the fire department collected toys and gift coupons for families in need at Christmas time. Someone told them about us. Later that evening, one of my brothers showed up at my door and gave me a gift of $300, he knew we needed help.
The next day, we went to the market and bought food and the fixings for our Christmas dinner. Using some money from my brother's gift, we put gas in our car and drove to the exchange at nearby West Point, buying wrapping paper, diapers, a few more age appropriate toys and some new clothes for the kids.
Christmas 1983, which appeared to be so hopeless for our family turned out to be the most wonderful Christmas we ever had. The generosity of other people, some known to us, others we didn't know, reached out and helped us when we really needed it. I still have to blink back tears just thinking about it.
I've told this story to our kids over and over again and this experience has turned into a mission for Marti and I. We have been blessed over the years with good fortune, but we've never forgotten what it felt like to be in a seemingly helpless situation. To this day, we keep our eyes and ears pealed for others that have hit a bump in the road of life and work out some way to help them, always anonymously. It's a gift we give ourselves, the joy of helping others.
May this Christmas season bring much joy and happiness to you and your families as you gather together and exchange gifts, love and joy.
Most importantly, never forget the real meaning of Christmas.
May every road you travel
bring you safely home
to the wonder of Christmas,
to the warmth of God's love