More Than A Hat
A True Christmas Story
After a freezing, blustery morning walking my dogs, I drove to the bank. As I turned in to the bank’s parking lot, I noticed a woman standing down the hill, by the main road, apparently waiting for a bus. She had a hardened look about her: her wind-blown long hair dyed too dark for her age—an age which appeared to be about my own—and without gloves or hat. Still freezing myself from my half-hour dog walk, I could only imagine how frozen she must be! At least I had a hat and gloves!
As I parked and went into the bank, I noticed the woman walk up the hill and into the bank’s small glass entryway, standing there, anxiously looking out, as if waiting for someone or something. Passing her on my way out, it came to me to say to her with a smile, as any mother might, “You need a hat!” With a side-glance my way, she answered in a tremulous voice, “I . . . I need more than a hat.”
“What do you need?” I asked.
“I’ve been waiting out there an hour for the bus but it never came.” She was still shaking from cold. “I even stopped another bus to ask where this bus was and why it hadn’t come yet.”
“Where do you need to go?” I asked.
“To the market, down the road a-ways.”
“Come on, I’ll take you—but you’ll have to tell me how to get there. Are you okay with dogs?—I’ve two big ones in the car.”
She nodded, coughing, “Are you sure you can do this—it’s not out of your way?”
“I can do this.” I answered.
She followed me to my car, where 300 pounds of Newfoundland and Bernese Mountain Dog greeted her with kisses before settling down in the back to see what new adventure this stranger might bring.
“I was waiting and waiting for that bus,” she began, still coughing and shaking from the cold. “I know I shouldn’t have gone in the bank, they probably were going to make me leave, thought I’d rob it or something. . . but I was so cold. . . couldn’t even go get a cup of coffee to keep me warm because I don’t have the money for it. . . the bus was going to take me to where I could use my food stamp card and get something to eat. I’d walk, but its miles away and I only have one lung.”
“Why do you only have one lung?” I surprised myself by asking rather presumptuously.
“Because of the fire. Our house burnt down in July. I had to get the grandkids out. The three-year old used to love fire engines; now if he hears one, he just shakes.”
“That’s terrible—I’m so sorry. So where do you live now?”
“We’ve had to break up. . . my daughter—a single parent—and her kids live with friends, but one grandkid lives with me. My son’s in the service, thousands of miles away, stationed in Washington state. . . there’s no one to help.”
“Didn’t you have home insurance?”
“We were renting.”
“What about public housing or something?”
“There isn’t anything. I’ve tried and tried.”
“Do you have a job?”
“I got unemployed due to the fire when I lost my lung,” she continued, her words interrupted by coughing. “I applied for social security months ago but they told me it could take up to six months and they won’t allow me to work until I get it. All I have is my food card and medical card. It’s going to be a terrible Christmas.” Her voice cracked. “Grandmas are supposed to do things for their grandchildren at Christmas, but . . . ” She couldn’t finish her sentence.
“I’m a grandma, too” I ventured. “I know what you mean. Will you at least be with them? Kids don’t need stuff; they just need your love.”
“I don’t know if we can all be together . . . I don’t know about anything . . . ” Through tears she gave me further directions to the market. As I turned into the parking lot, I knew what I would do.
From the little bit of cash I’d taken out of the bank, I’d give her a twenty dollar bill. I had just bought a small turkey for my family a few days ago for about the same amount. At least she could give her grandchildren a turkey dinner for Christmas, or whatever she wanted. Before she got out of the car, I opened my wallet and said, “Look, I’ve been where you are now—not the same thing, not nearly as bad, but I know what it’s like not to have money, to face hard times.” I could feel my own tears welling up as I continued, “I believe God put us together at that bank for a purpose. God will take care of you. I don’t have a lot of money, but I want to give you this twenty—it will buy a turkey or something for you and your grandchildren.” We were both rolling in tears now. She thanked me profusely, we hugged, planted kisses on each other’s cold cheeks—two strangers, two grandmas—who’d survived life’s troubles at different times and places, brought together serendipitously by God’s direction to know and help each other.
I’d given her a ride and a twenty-dollar bill, but she’d given me more: a deeper understanding of Christmas.
As she left, I smiled through my tears and hers, to add, “And get a hat!”
“I will!” she smiled back.
Artwork: A Cold Winter oil, approx. 18″ x 14″ sold. I painted this oil from my kitchen window on a very cold winter’s day in Pennsylvania–waterfall and stream were frozen in place.