At Hamilton College, where my parents work, some of the staff have been sharing stories and memories about the holidays via e-mail. This is what my mom shared. She insists that she had told me the following story when I was a kid, but I don’t remember it. I loved hearing it today, and she said I could share it with you.
A Christmas Reflection
By Mary O’Neill
When I went to college it was a big financial hardship for us. My mother worked as a waitress to raise me and my brother. Even though we lived in Kansas, we decided that I would go to La Crosse State College in Wisconsin in order to save money. I had to pay $200.00 in out-of-state tuition, but the $35.00 a month my mother gave my aunt and uncle to give me housing and food was cheaper than the $1,200 a year for those who lived in the dormitory. My mother worked an extra job on the weekends to help with this cost. I worked summers and had an on-campus job. There was no financial aid, but there were always jobs for those with determination to get one, and I am a very determined person!
Getting home for Christmas was a big ordeal. Not only did I have to make reservations on the train for a three-leg trip–changing trains in Chicago and Kansas City, I had to work to pay for my ticket, which was $50.00 round trip at the time! I took a job in Kresge’s five and dime for the pre-Christmas shopping period, working on Friday nights and Saturdays. My job was in the Christmas ornament department, arranging and rearranging lights and angels and holly and more, until I was pretty tired of the whole holiday and the canned music that played constantly.
But the day finally came when I went upstairs to the manager’s office to get my money. (Looking back now, I realize that it was very nice of him to let me leave early before Christmas so I could take the train home.) I had enough to buy my ticket on the Burlington railroad and to buy a few Christmas presents.
Those were the days when one dressed up for the train. I wore my best slacks and a nice sweater, and had my large suitcase and my train case with all the things I would need for freshening up after sleeping in the seat all night. You can imagine how I wrestled and wrangled those bags while changing trains–no little luggage carts then!
Off I went on my big adventure–this was my first time on the train by myself. I felt so grown up and mature; I could really take care of myself! Unfortunately, I wasn’t smart enough to get some cash, and thinking that I could write a check for a meal in the diner, I ordered a sandwich and drink. Dismay crossed my face when I was told I couldn’t pay with a check! What was I to do? Starve for the 22 hour trip? Then I heard a voice; the man sitting next to me said, “I can cash a check for you.” I turned, and saw a gentleman of indeterminate age. At first I wondered if this was a good thing to do, because he was a stranger, but it all seemed above board and he seemed to trust me and my bank balance. I wrote a check for $5.00 to the gentleman, and it covered not only my meal, but breakfast the next morning.
I kept that canceled check and realized years later that Mr. Goldman probably did not celebrate Christmas, but he sure had the Holiday spirit. I will always remember him and how he represented the kindness of strangers.
I hope that you all will benefit from “the kindness of strangers,” and will enjoy the simple things about the season.