I am tired behind the eyes tonight. I have just finished, with my compatriot Betsy, feeding the hopes and dreams of more than 60 nonprofit agencies that come to us to provide Christmas for their clients, our most fragile citizens. It is, without a doubt, the best three days of the year. Betsy made it better. She found a radio station that plays nothing but Christmas music. Deck the Halls. She organized the stuff. Do you need Christmas Decorations or Candles or China or Childrens’ Gifts or Underwear (don’t get me started – anyone reading this has no idea how lucky they are) or about two dozen other categories.
But the thing that makes the Christmas Giveaway so emotional is, of course, the people who come. And, of course, food comes in to play because what do people do when they come a calling? They bring food.
Bobby and Sue came from Cannon County, about an hour away. They help impoverished children. Bobby jokes that he’s an organic farmer because they live so far out in the sticks that the bugs can’t find them. They brought us bread and butter pickles, the sweet kind. “We thought you could eat them with your sandwiches,” said Sue. Last month, they brought us turnip greens. The month before, pickled okra.
The girls from Bedford County – who represent four nonprofits that help people caring for chronically ill patients, children with autism, those without food and foster kids – made us CRC jars filled with chocolates. Betsy loves sweets. They know this.
Bobbie Cox comes all the way from Fayetteville, almost two hours away. She helps seniors who have no family and Head Start children. In the food arena, she’s kind of an over-achiever. She brought us homemade cookies, a “drunken” orange cake and a bag of sweet potatoes from her cellar. Betsy’s daughter loves sweet potatoes so she eyed that bag possessively. I took enough for a sweet potato pie, which is really all I need because my boys don’t cotton to sweet potatoes.
Sometimes I feel like the old country doctor who trades his services for produce and eggs. This is a time-honored Southern tradition. There is nothing more precious than the gift of self and a mess of greens or pickles or sweet potatoes mean more to me than anything else I can think of.
Mark just came in to the office and raved about the orange cake. He had just enjoyed the labor of a woman two hours away who he has never met, a woman who works two jobs to make enough money to help people who can’t help themselves. A woman who thought enough of us to spend her night in the kitchen making us an orange cake.
If you can tell me a better meaning of the Christmas spirit, I’d love to hear it.