So, probably against all better judgment (but when have I ever been known to show that?), we went shopping today. Our first stop was BJ's, for cat litter, and then we ventured to Toys 'R Us, which is so many kinds of stupid it can't really be quantified. But I wanted to try to get everything done for my Christmas Kid, and what she wanted was toys, and I want to go on record as saying that I might be crazy for going to Toys R Us, but believe me when I say that even I know it would have been retarded to get anywhere near a Wal-Mart.
I've "sponsored" a Christmas Kid every year since I started my current job. My company hooks up with a local children's charity and we get info packets on needy kids. You know me and my weak little bleeding heart; as soon as I heard about the program, I signed up. It never once occurred to me not to. You get a name, some basic information like sizes and toy list, and a bag for you to fill with goodies. The usual Christmas stuff -- clothes, books, toys. I also get basics like hairbrushes, toothbrushes, and socks, because I have some kind of thing for socks.
This year I got a girl who will be two in January. I requested a little kid for the past two years because I've always found something ... illogical, maybe? ... about getting consumer electronics for teenagers whose families can't afford Christmas presents. I have no compunction about getting a CD player, and since I'm a retail commando I can totally get one for almost nothing. But if their parents can't afford a cheapo generic Discman in the first place, where are they going to get CD's?
Anyway, I was wrapping today's acquisitions and I was sort of freaking out, because my bag looks so empty this year. When I first showed G the wish list for this little girl, he was partly stunned, because it was a short list. "Doll, learning toy, blocks, play telephone, toy box." That's verbatim. I am not the least bit ashamed to tell you that I might be more excited than she will be when I found light-up sparkle Strawberry Shortcake sneakers in her size.
But for all the good stuff I got -- two outfits, a hat and gloves, barettes, adorable pajammies with monkeys on them, a musical tea set -- I still feel like a cheap bitch. Why isn't the bag full yet? I've been shopping for more than a full month, and there are still two weeks to go. What else can I get? Probably dozens of things, maybe hundreds. More clothes? A new coat? Perhaps a little baby doll so she has someone to have tea parties with?
One thing I do know: it will probably take me years of this sort of penance before I feel like I've repaid the Universe for all the good karma it's thrown my way. I don't care how much it costs, or how "over budget" I go when I'm shopping for these kids. Because if not for me, they might not have a Christmas. And I must do what I can, because I am a Haldaman, and one year someone gave my Dad tomato soup for Christmas.
The now legendary story of the Christmas Tomato Soup has been verified by my grandmother, the one who was born in the manger next to Jesus, so I know it has not been made up, but that doesn't make it any more mythical or extraordinary. And now matter how many times I hear about it -- I think we are going on eleventy bajillion times, now -- it still does things to my hard, black, bitter, little heart that I cannot control or understand.
As far as I can tell, the facts are these: My father is one of thirteen children. His family lived in a small house, everyone together, on a very tight budget. Sometimes, they did not get all new things for Christmas. Sometimes, their Christmas dinner was barely enough. But always, no matter what, there was Christmas. It might not be what the rest of us take for granted, but it was what it was, and it is what it is, and they made do, and were happy.
When my father was about 7 years old, so the story goes, someone asked him what he wanted for Christmas. And he said -- this is my father, remember, so don't say I didn't warn you -- "tomato soup." Always he has been a simple man with understated expectations. Do your best, work hard, love each other, clean your room, eat your soup. So to me, it is no surprise that he would ask for soup for Christmas. My daddy loves tomato soup.
I don't know how much time passed between when my father asked for soup and when Christmas came, but I know that things got rough. Really rough. Can't get a confirmation on this, because it was so long ago, but I believe there was a strike at the Steel that year, and my grandfather was out of work for a while over the holidays because of it. So when it came time to get presents? Yeah, not so much.
Except an amazing thing happened: everyone got what they wanted that year. Everyone in the family. And nobody knows how or why. Presents appeared on Christmas morning. And my dad? Got a whole case of tomato soup. He says it was one of his best Christmases ever.
This is the way I was raised: don't be greedy. Ask for what you want, but want what is simple. I don't really ask for much around the holidays. The best Christmas present I ever got was my iPod, which is seriously the coolest toy ever, and which I never expected. When I asked for it, I was kidding. One of my sisters is making my Christmas present this year. And I am giving everything I can to this little girl, whom I've never met, whom I might never meet, because one year someone got my dad tomato soup for Christmas.
Whatever you want this year? I hope you get it. And I hope you can find it in your hearts -- hard, black, bitter and little or not -- to share.