It’s 7:00 PM on Christmas Eve night, I’m sitting here alone with my dog Buddy getting ready to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and then I will watch “Christmas Story” before going to bed. I sent everyone who came into work today home at noon, and I left shortly thereafter.
On my way to brave the enormous crowd at the grocery store I stopped at home to pick up an elk roast to take to the kind Asian man who owns the liquor store I go to. He is a very nice man, about my age, and he always asks about my hunting and fishing trips with a hint of jealousy, as if he wished that he could go on adventures like I do. I thought I would take him an elk roast as a Christmas present, and he was so happy to receive that! He is such a nice man, and it felt good to give him that gift.
At the grocery store I got a big spiraled ham, potatoes, a pumpkin pie, and a few other things I needed to make a nice Christmas Eve dinner for my son Kyle and me. At home I got the ham in the oven, got out the fancy dishes, place mats, serving dishes, everything that I use once a year. I wanted it to be a special Christmas for Kyle, and that’s hard to do at his age and being a single father.
A couple of hours later we had a big Christmas Eve meal, and then sat in the living room by my mini fake Christmas tree and exchanged gifts. Kyle gave me a very nice card and a gift certificate to Eddie Bauer, I gave him a card, some money, and a pair of Sorel snow boots, like the ones I have had for 30 years that he always likes to wear. It was a nice time, although too short. I knew he wanted to go hang out with his friends, and that’s OK, I was the same way when I was his age. He left, I cleaned up from dinner, put the left-over’s away, and decided to write about a special Christmas Eve from my past.
Christmas Eve 12 years ago was a pretty dark time in my life. My ex-wife and I had separated and I was living alone in a small apartment, and not seeing my son every day. On November 17th of that year I had a major back surgery, and I spent the week of Thanksgiving in the hospital, not remembering much of anything about that week. When I was able to go home, I had 8 weeks of being holed up in my little apartment to look forward to. I couldn’t do anything, and I had a half-body cast from just under my arm pits down to below my hips.
I spent lonely days and nights trapped in that apartment, I couldn’t even tie my shoes if I wanted to go anywhere. My ex-wife took my son to Phoenix for Christmas, and I had absolutely no one, other than some friends from work who stopped by to bring me groceries and things.
It was a cold, snowy day on Christmas Eve, and at about 1:00 someone knocked on the door. By the time I made it to the door, the UPS guy was gone, and there was a large box, about two feet x two feet x three feet sitting by the door. I struggled to drag it into the apartment, but was so excited that I had received gifts. I grabbed a knife and opened the box to find it filled with wrapped presents and a card sitting on top, just like my Mom always did every year. What a nice surprise that was, a Christmas miracle!
But when I opened the card, it was not for me; it contained a picture of a family that I didn’t know. I closed the flap on the box top to read it, and it was not for me, it was for the Roberts family in Columbine Hills, the UPS guy made a mistake.
My heart sank for a moment, but then I thought about what this meant; I had this box full of presents on Christmas Eve that was intended for the Roberts family, somewhere near where I lived.
Back in those days we had phone books, not smart phones. So I got out the phone book and started looking for the Roberts family in Columbine Hills, the address on the box was obviously not correct. I found 13 people for whom this package might have been intended, and only 7 of them had phone numbers listed (that was about the time when people were trying to gain a little privacy, as opposed to the old days when everyone’s name and number was in the phone book). For my younger readers, there used to be this big book delivered on your doorstep once a year that had all businesses and people in your area listed in the book with their phone number and address, which was long before the days of smart phones.
I called those 7 numbers, and it was a bit awkward to start a conversation out by saying “Hi, do you know a family from Bellwood, Illinois by the name of Ryker?” Two people hung up on me, and the rest said that they did not know anyone from Bellwood, Illinois.
I wrote down the other 6 addresses, cut out the map page of Columbine Hills (yes, phone books had maps too), and went to get dressed. It took me 45 minutes to put on some warm clothes, and the hardest part was the shoes. I decided on my Sorel boots, but I couldn’t tie them.
I could hear that my neighbors were home, so I limped over to their door and knocked. A smiling young lady answered the door, and I asked if someone could carry a box down the snow-covered stairs to my truck, and if they could tie my boots for me. I had two volunteers instantly, and one of the ladies even helped me down the stairs and into my truck.
As the snow fall increased, I navigated the streets looking for the addresses on my list. By now it was near 6:00 PM, and the first four addresses were not who I was looking for; again with the awkward introduction, “Hi, my name is Bear, do you know a Ryker family from Bellwood, Illinois?” Each stop was a struggle for me to get in and out of my truck, which was an F350 and lifted pretty high. I even had to ask this one guy to help me get back into my truck because as the night went on I got weaker and was afraid I would fall on the slick street.
Finally, on the 5th address, I found the family that I was looking for. I was greeted at the door by an adorable little girl who looked to be 7 years old, wearing reindeer slippers and a Santa hat. I asked “Can I speak to your mom or dad?” Just then Tom Roberts came to the door, and confirmed that the Ryker family in Bellwood, Illinois was a family friend. I said “I have something for you, would you mind helping me get it out of my truck?”
Tom came out to my truck parked at the curb of the street as I explained to him what took place that day. I apologized for opening the box; I said I didn’t even look to see who it was for, and I just assumed it was for me. He completely understood, and was very excited and thankful that I tracked down who the box was meant for, and he invited me in to spend Christmas Eve with his family.
By then I was experiencing an excruciating amount of pain, but I said I would stay for a while. We went back into the house; and Tom introduced me to his wife and kids, some relatives, and to my surprise, the Ryker family, who had sent their presents ahead of their travel so they wouldn’t have to carry them on the plane.
I stayed at their house for a little over an hour, having some food and a glass of wine, talking with everyone. They were all so thankful to me for finding them and bringing that box of gifts to them. I kept saying it was no big deal; anyone would have done the same thing.
Tom helped me into my truck, and after I made it home and up the snowy stairs to my apartment, I went to bed that night feeling like Santa Claus.
Merry Christmas everyone!