Christmas in Poverty

In honor of the holidays, AHF will explore contributions to literature, film, art and other humanities disciplines in the name of holiday spirit! Or, through the art of storytelling, we will tell you our favorite Christmas memories.

It’s the Saturday before Christmas 1971 and all through the house little creatures are stirring in anticipation of our visit to Eastwood Mall. My three children dance from room to room with elfish enthusiasm, each flashing a crisp $10 bill I gave them to spend on gifts for whomever they please. Once in the station wagon, I tell the kids we need to make a stop to deliver the packages piled in the back—toys and clothes designated for a poor family across town.

Explaining the detour on the way to the mall takes some convincing, but the kids agree to help, just to speed up the process. We head downtown to the tune of three treble voices belting out “Jingle Bells.” Locating the address among the look-alike apartments in the housing project isn’t easy, but I finally locate the target of my Sunday school class’ yuletide generosity. Leaving the kids in the station wagon, I bang on the door several times. Although I hear voices inside no one answers. A neighbor recognizes my plight and assures the occupants it’s safe to unlock the door and let me inside.

A few minutes later, three wide-eyed children tear into the neatly wrapped packages and begin playing with the dolls, trucks, pinball machines and red wagon, tossing aside the pants, shirts and sweaters. Soon my children join the fun in the living room, bare except for a small television adorned with a rabbit ears antenna. Reluctantly, I break into their extended play-time visit and remind the kids we still have some shopping to do.

Driving along, I explain why the children’s mother leaves them alone behind locked doors while she works; why there’s no furniture in the house; why they have no Christmas tree and no toys and why there is no food in the kitchen. Unfortunately, those little children are forced to live in poverty. After a long silence, my 10-year-old suggests we just skip the mall and go on home. To my surprise the two younger ones agree, but only if we stop at McDonald’s on the way. I gave you all my money, so you will need to buy hamburgers out of your 10 dollars, I say.

Then comes the shocker. Upon learning the children behind locked doors had no cookies, no crackers, not even a leftover Pop Tart to eat, my children gave away their Christmas $10 bills. On the way home, the “Jingle Bells” are not ringing in my ears, but we’re not traveling in silence. My children chatter about the fun they had playing Santa for their new destitute friends. As we pull into our driveway, my 10-year-old leans over the driver’s seat and whispers, “Daddy, since we have no money and can’t buy food, does that mean we’ll spend Christmas in poverty?”