Long-ago Christmas gave the gift of redemption

Every year about this time I can’t help but recall my most memorable Christmas. It was 1975, and following a slow, almost imperceptible slide, I had left everything behind in Georgia and traveled the Eastern Seaboard before falling in with three characters from Detroit.

I was out of my element as they revealed to me the underbelly of society. It wasn’t like they were hard-core criminals; they weren’t. But they didn’t hesitate to take advantage of opportunities that our society provides daily to those who are not so scrupulous as you and I. One was fond of reminding us that “it’s a plastic world we live in.” He was referring to credit cards.

Maybe one day I’ll write a book about those experiences, but for now let’s just say that the day came when it was prudent that I leave Atlanta for parts unknown to anyone but myself and one of my partners.

We ended up in southern Illinois in a summer home on a private lake. The lake was “gated,” so no one came in or out without my knowing it. After about two weeks, my partner left for his home in North Carolina, as Christmas was soon coming. I was alone.

The owner of the house was the father of a girl I had met. Atlanta had chewed her up, and she had returned to southern Illinois, leaving her car with me. The return of her car was the pretense under which I arrived, and while no one set a limit on how long I could stay, she made it clear that I was not welcome for long.

My life was accelerating into a downward spiral, but I was confident that I possessed the intrinsic values to stop it. I just didn’t know how. The girl had taken her car, so I was without wheels and had no job. Money had run out completely. It was Christmas Eve day.

At that time, I changed my mind-set completely. I put the last year behind me and went into the woods to cut a Christmas tree. It was more like one of those Charlie Brown spindly trees than a full-size Douglas fir, but that was OK by me.

I wrapped a couple of small Tupperware containers in the Sunday funny papers and placed them under the tree. I cut out a star from cardboard and wrapped it in tin foil. I cut some more funny paper into streamers and decorated the tree with them. I went onto the lake and shot a duck to eat. (I have my shotgun to this day.) I knew in my heart that this Christmas would be special. It would signify the moment I rejoined society.

On Christmas Day, for the first time in a week, my friend came to check on me and was moved by what I had done. She invited me to her house for Christmas dinner. The next day she loaned me her car to find a job, and a few days later I landed at my first newspaper and began life’s journey anew.

Call it a miracle. Or maybe we humans have more of the “right stuff” than we know.

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