The Other 11 Months
By David Owen
DECEMBER 22, 1997: There will be all around us, in the next week or so, a plethora of charming reminiscences about Christmases past, sobering news reports on renewed efforts to help the homeless, and touching accounts of seasonal volunteerism.
To tell you the truth, I can get a little "Grinchy" about that sort of thing. First of all, I'm not that nice of a guy. Second, I confess I am generally too absorbed in my own struggles to worry about people I don't even know. So, I usually just feel guilty about doing nothing.
But several years ago during the holiday season when my oldest son was three or four I was touched by the usual outpouring of goodwill customarily inspired by Christmas toward the less fortunate. At the same time, I felt a bit jaded. Sure, we all feel better making charitable gestures. We all mean well. But does it last? What about the rest of the year? I knew I wanted to do something in the spirit of the holiday, but I thought it might be more real if I waited until after Christmas.
For once in my life, I stuck to my resolve. It always struck me that December in a nursing home is loaded with caroling children and other visitors, but the rest of the year must be pretty bleak. Just after New Year's Day, I called a couple of facilities to inquire about residents who might not have any family. The third call hit paydirt. The "recreation director" at one home a woman named Estelle told me she had a nice little, old man named Hyrum Park who never had visitors. She thought he might be a good choice.
So, we did it. Over the course of the next couple of years, Michael and I visited Hyrum for a few minutes most every week. Nothing really dramatic ever happened. Hyrum enjoyed our visits. He recognized our faces, though he never remembered our names. He always referred to us as "my new friends."
Hyrum was very feeble. In addition to being aged, I suspected he was mildly retarded. At times we took him out for drives. Once we took him out to the site of the farm where he was born and had lived most of his life. This farm he remembered so vividly was located around 500 East and 3300 South. He teared up a little as he tried to pick out landmarks that had long since vanished.
Hyrum was easily contented. One time, when asked if we could bring him something special from "outside," he requested some oranges. We brought some.
We continued our visits for some time until his health took a downturn, and he was transferred to a more specialized facility. He died before we tracked him down.
Two weeks ago, my colleague, Bruce Baird, asked how he an atheist could teach his kids about Christmas. Though not atheist, I struggle with the same thing. I think most of what we teach our kids about Christmas is beside the point. Maybe the words we use to explain the concept aren't really what count.
Don't worry about explaining Christmas, Bruce. Get a tree, read your kids the story, and find a gift for them to give during the other 11 months of the year.
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