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The Ghost of Christmas Past

It was December 24, 1975, and the outside high temperatures hovered around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As I approached my front door, I could see it like some sinister demon as it dangled from the door knob--a notice from city hall. I had until 5:00 to pay my past due utiity bill or my power and water would be disconnected. I had no money. Merry Christmas to me!

My first husband and I had been married for three months. I was yet unaware that I was pregnant with my first child. The economic recession had hit hard in my hometown and jobs were nearly impossible to come by. I had been able to snare a part-time, weekend job cleaning rooms at a local motel. They paid me once a month. My husband had lost his job right before our wedding and was lucky to land a day-labor gig now and then. We were fortunate the landlady was gracious and did not demand our two months of overdue rent or threaten to evict us from the small house we could not afford to heat. We did not qualify for any government aid beyond a small allotment of food stamps, which at that time in history had to be purchased. Our monthly allotment was $90, which we could purchase for $25. But we did not have $25. What we did have was a few pounds of potatoes in the kitchen that had become our main living quarters because it contained a small wood burning stove which gave us both a little warmth and a way to cook.

We ate a lot of potatoes. They were cheap and somewhat filling.

No other Christmas was quite as bleak as that first one I'd spent as an 18-year-old adult. It's often easy to forget those less fortunate amid the holiday flurry of overblown shopping and parties, and the frenzy of outdoing the neighbors with increasingly gaudy outdoor decor. In this season, I try to slow down and take a lesson from Ebenezer Scrooge and revisit my old ghosts. For thirty years, I was a member of the American working poor, dependent upon the aid of many angels--people and organizations willing to lend the helping hand I and my children so often needed to survive. But the hard lessons I learned in those lean years only enhance these years now lived more fruitfully. Those years taught me humility. They taught me appreciation. I quickly learned to distinguish between want and need. Most of all, I learned how to give back.

There are those out there who are hungry. There are those who are cold. Many of them are children. I am grateful they are not mine, yet they do belong to me. They also belong to you. They belong to us all in this massive family of humanity. They should not be neglected or forgotten as we race out to purchase the latest, greatest, new electronic device or over-priced designer shoes.

I consider myself blessed to have discovered the joy of giving, for there is great truth to the old adage, "Tis better to give than to receive." It can actually be quite addictive. And above all, angels are cherished.


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