It’s Christmas time again. As I procrastinate from finishing my novel and editing it, I thought I’d share a cute little Christmas story from a long time ago in a small town in Ohio. To the best of my knowledge, this story is accurate. Of course, the problem storytelling is that stories passed down through the ages (sorry about the age reference Mom-in-Law) are subject to, well, subjectivity.
I present to you, with limited commercial interruption, “Silent Night” and the Bologna Sandwich:
Growing up, my grandfather-in-law, who is no longer with us, lived by a train station in a small town in Ohio where the homeless frequently hitched rides on open train cars. His parents, my great-grandparents-in-law, were not very giving or kind to anyone. Real life Scrooges to be certain. Other stories back up this fact. At Christmas time, though, they all sat around the radio and listened to whatever Christmas shows were playing.
On this particular Christmas Eve night, when my grandfather-in-law was about 10 years old, while the family was perched around the radio listening to Christmas music and other yuletide stories, there came a knock at the door. Begrudgingly, his father answered the door cursing whoever was bothering them on this blessed night. Snow and cold air blowing into their warm home, a hobo stood shivering and begged for a little something to eat. Perhaps it was the season, or something in the homeless man’s face, his father invited him in. All the while, “Silent Night” was playing in the backdrop.
What they talked about is lost to history, but what we do know is that his father fed him a bologna sandwich and a cup of coffee before the nameless man made his way back into the snow to spend Christmas night alone in the cold, thankful all the while for this simple short-term gift.
This incident so moved my young grandfather-in-law he could no longer listen to “Silent Night” without tearing up. It was so touching for him to see his father, who was never nice to anyone, be so generous and kind on such an important night as Christmas.
All grown up, my grandfather-in-law shared this story with his five children.
Being the playful children they were, and meaning nothing truly hurtful by it, my mother-in-law (with whom I am very close) and all her siblings started to tease their father for being so moved by their grandfather’s generosity. Every time “Silent Night” came up on the radio and their father started to tear, they would all knock on something and yell, “I’m a bum, can I have a bologna sandwich and a cup of coffee”.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this was an incredibly mean thing to do, even for children. However, good has come of this childish prank. Though her father is now passed, every time we hear “Silent Night,” our entire family knocks on wood no matter where we are: grocery stores, church, around town with strangers. We all get a great laugh, even my mother-in-law, who laughs but still tears up. And she knows, somewhere, that her father is remembering that Christmas Eve all those years ago. A childish and hurtful prank has turned into a means by which my mother-in-law remembers her father. Remembers, and smiles.
We should all be so lucky to have memories of our family members that allow those who have passed to continue on living in our hearts.