Operation Santa Claus
By Corina Carrasco
Christmas, for most of us, is a very emotional time of year. It brings back memories, both good and bad; it brings us face to face with the end of the year and failures, both real and perceived. This is true for me, just like it is for everyone else.
This morning, as I sat inside my idling car, waiting for my turn, I was able to catch my breath. That’s when my mind came to terms with what I was waiting for and that’s when the tears started. As I sat in that long line of cars, I thought about all the Christmases behind me. Many of them were very good–the ones in the years when I was married and there was no financial problem. Many of them, considering that I was only married for sixteen of my sixty-two Christmases, were not the good years. I grew up as the fifth child in a family with seven children and being the fifties, most moms didn’t work. My dad worked at a cannery, driving a forklift truck to load and unload the big rigs that came to the cannery to drop off and pick up cases of fruits and vegetables, both canned and fresh. There was very little money for Christmas but my parents made sure that we always had something to mark the special day. Many years the only “something” we had was what was delivered to us from the church or the school. In those days, they called them Christmas Baskets. I think these days they are just “holiday boxes.” During the married years, this wasn’t a problem. Our kids always had way more than enough and I always contributed cash and food and labor for the “holiday boxes” that were put together for the people who needed them in our community. Then came the leaner years. Things were usually not horrible because we were, for the most part, taken care of financially. However, there were a few years when finances were being argued about in court and so there was very little at Christmas. Luckily, those were very few years. Throughout even the lean years the important thing was to be together and stop to reflect, at least on this one day a year, on how fortunate we all are to be alive and around our loved ones.
Lately, however, things have changed drastically. Now I am on that proverbial “fixed income” which leaves me less than two hundred dollars a month after I pay my rent. It’s tough to pay utilities and put gas in my car. Anything else, including food very often, is just not in the budget. This month I was lucky to have earned fifty dollars dog sitting so there’s a little bit.
This morning, that line I was in? It was Operation Santa Claus, put on by the Fire Department. They collect canned food (you know all those canned food drives around town?) and toys collected at malls and banks and restaurants. People are referred to Operation Santa Claus by the Department of Human Services, Social Security, schools, churches, and other organizations. This year, as in the past two previous years, my grandchildren were referred so I was in line to get the canned food and a bag of toys for them. As I sat there, all of the sudden, like a bolt of lightning, I was overcome with tears. It was so humbling to be in that line; so humbling to not be able to provide your family with the extras that so many others have. I sat and cried and cried as my car moved up in the line. I couldn’t stop crying and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to talk when it came to my turn. It was though. And I am so glad that the words that came out of my mouth when the fireman motioned for me to roll down the window, were “Thank you so much for doing this each year. It is so humbling to not be able to provide for my family. I am so glad you are out here doing this. Merry Christmas.” As I said those words, I saw tears in the fireman’s eyes and he took in a breath and thanked me for reminding him of why they do this every year.
Thank you for sticking with me through this ramble and a very Merry Christmas to you and to your family. Don’t forget what it’s all about.