Friday, December 13, 2013

I found Christmas...

I think it was Carolyn, one of my wonderful San Antonio friends, who came to me a day or so after Steve had died.  She quietly pulled me aside amid all the busyness that comes with dying and simply said, “We want you to go to New York with us in December, will you think about it?”  My answer was a quick shrug of my shoulders and nod of my head, I was in, no need to think.

Last Spring a group of us were having breakfast and the idea of spending a few days in New York during the Christmas holidays came up.  Discussion escalated but I quietly declined, knowing I couldn’t leave Steve for such a trip.  

By mid-August when reservations were finally made, there were four of us going on this four day holiday junket.  In August and September, December 9th seemed like a lifetime away, but before I knew it our trip was here, and I was not wanting to go.

My life has been so hectic lately.  Helping Brooke and her family with their move.  Packing up my home, remodeling the new house, Thanksgiving, Christmas.  I was overwhelmed and just wanted to stay home, burrow in and get all the unpleasant things lurking in front of me done.   Plans had been made however, plane tickets, theatre tickets purchased, I was committed--so off I went.

The group that ended up going was special on many levels.  Three of the four of us were vagabonds in a sense.  We packed not only our clothes and necessities  but some heavy hearts and a need for loving friendships were tucked in right along side of our outer-ware.  

Carolyn’s wonderful husband Chris had died very unexpectedly a little over 1 ½ years ago.  This was to be her 2nd Christmas without sweet Chris.  

Claudia had a different ache from Carolyn’s and mine.  Claudia had taken her adorable little mother to NYC every year at Christmastime for about 10 years.  The last few years her darling mother has been unable to travel.  Dementia, age and frailty have captured her once vibrant and lively mother leaving Claudia with only poignant memories of the incredible trips they took over the years during this holiday season.  

Cindy, as always, our nurturer, was there for each of us with warm hugs, kind and tender words and tears of her own for our losses which were also her own.

Our first stop was Rockefeller Center, the iceskating rink, the larger than life angels, the gorgeous famous Christmas tree!  It was cold and it didn’t take seconds to feel the Christmas spirit bubble up through the sidewalk into our toes.

Cindy, Janet, Claudia, Carolyn Rockefeller Center

The Salvation Army ringers were in full swing, oh how fun...we were doing Christmas in The Big Apple.

We ate delicious food, drank great wine, had a few dirty martinis.  The next morning it was blustery, snow was starting to fall.  Out the door we went at 6:45 a.m. to stand with the throngs of crazies to catch a glimpse of Matt, Savannah, Al & Natalie on the Today Show--and of course to wave and yell and jump up and down so we could be seen on television for a few seconds.  Been there, done that.  

We were handed free tickets to The Katie (Couric) Show.  The weather was so bad we went...borrrring.  We left midway through, they were not impressed, neither were we.  We had tickets for Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular, and that it was.  We left humming all the way to drinks and dinner, oh Christmas was in the air!

Steve was also right there with me.  One of our very first trips together was to New York in December 20+ years ago.  It was the first time Steve said to me that his favorite part of the trip was riding up in the elevator to our hotel room.  He continued to repeat those same incredibly romantic words to me for the next 20 years in every hotel elevator, on every trip we took.  I heard his echo as we ascended that first day, my heart tore a bit.  

Our 1st New York Trip

That same first day I walked by an elderly couple, the husband was reading the sign on an old building, his wife bored, but patiently waited by his side.  I walked passed, stopped and turned around, bent over his stooped shoulder and politely asked him, “So what do those roman numerals tell us about this building?”  In that nanosecond, I had seen Steve, he had done it a hundred times, stopped to figure out those roman numerals.  The old man smiled, his shaky finger pointed to each symbol and he explained, in great detail,  the meaning of each one.  

My heart mended a bit. Little moments like this continued to happen throughout the trip, at times I would smile, at times my tears would flow, but Steve was beside me, his memory was with me, full and vibrantly vivid with each step I took. 

Wednesday morning our plan was to take the subway to Grand Central Station (there was a wonderful Christmas market)  and then on to ABC Carpets for a little Christmas shopping and lunch and finally to see Billy Crystal in “700 Sundays”.  Another full, fun day.  

Before we left the hotel that morning Carolyn shared a video with us titled “The Naughty from the Nice” (I think you can see it on You Tube.)  She then (Carolyn forgive me) handed each of us a $100 bill and asked us to hand it to someone we felt might need it that day.  Stunned at first, then filled with awe at the thought of this gift, off we went.

Grand Central Station

I was the first to give my gift.  We had arms full of Christmas bags and were headed back to the hotel to unload before hitting our next destination.  We got a bit lost changing trains on the subway.  I finally spotted a gentleman with a box in this hands.  I guessed right, he worked as a delivery runner, so I supposed he would know the subway system.  He was so kind in telling us to just follow him.  He was going the same way and he would take us to our stop.  As we got off the train he and I began talking, he had lived in Manhattan all his life and he tried to make it a habit every day to help give someone directions...he said it made his day a bit brighter.  I knew, this was to be the receiver of my gift.  Right before parting we thanked him for his kindness and I placed the folded up bill in his hand.  He quickly said, “Oh no, no I don’t help for that.”  My response was, “Oh, no please, this is a Christmas gift, it’s meant for you.”  

He placed it in his pocket and we all parted.  This kind gentle man had no idea if I had given him $1 or $5 but I know when he pulled that $100 bill out of his pocket his gratitude radiated all over that enormous city.  I turned to look at Carolyn, Claudia and Cindy and all our eyes were filled with tears.  It was beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

Carolyn was next.  Later that day, we had split up and she and I were heading back to the hotel once again.  The subway halls were bustling and we were weary.  We passed a young woman sitting against the cold hard tile of the subway, an old paper cup in front of her.  You had to look closely to see that she had a small baby nestled closely against her chest, otherwise you would have never noticed that she was a mother.  Carolyn did an about face place her bill in the young woman’s hand.  As I turned to see where my friend had gone, I noticed the young mother simply place the folded money in her inside pocket.  Again, what must have filled her thoughts when she emptied he pockets that evening?  I know joy and hope filled ours. Oh this was Christmas!

Claudia had handed her gift off at about the same time.  She and Cindy were riding a different subway back to the hotel and a man way playing a set of small bongo like drums on their train.  As people entered the train he would greet them.  Claudia’s arms were full of shopping bags.  He smiled and asked, “What all these gifts and none for me?”  Then heartily laughed and continued to invite his passengers to smile and sing and be merry and joyful, it was Christmas.  At their stop, as the train emptied, Claudia handed off her gift to this joy filled man and said, “See I didn’t forget you, Merry Christmas!”  She said he unfolded that bill and kept repeating “Really, really?!”  Oh be careful who you entertain as you might be entertaining angles unaware…

Cindy was the last, but she knew immediately where her gift would go.  Our hotel package included breakfast, so needless to say we ate a daily breakfast.  Our waiter, Solomon, served us on the first day and became our “good friend”.  He had a daughter named, Claudia, so there was much to visit about.  He pulled out his phone, showed us her picture, she is currently attending collage in upstate New York and he has more daughters still at home.  Wednesday he had a tin of cookies waiting for our Claudia.  Thursday the maître d' told us Solomon had been asking for us, cookies for all!  Little did he know that Thursday Cindy’s gift was left for him.  May all your Christmases be bright!

You would think this was the end, but oh no...Thursday morning we headed for the Metropolitan Museum by taxi.  It was cold and we had a just a few hours to spend.  We piled into our taxi, I sat in front and headed (the wrong way for the Met.)  I finally couldn’t stand it any longer and timidly asked if we were going the right way?  Kita (we were to learn his name later) explained the streets and Central Park and that was the start of our conversation.  

Kita was from midwestern Africa.  He had been in the U.S. for 26 years and was proud of his citizenship.  Kita only worked days, taxi driving nights was too dangerous and he only worked until 4:00 PM.  You see Kita has two young girls 6 and 12 years old, he loves them (as he releases his hold from the steering wheel to embrace his heart) with all of his “being” and it is important for him to be home with his girls.  This man lit up from within as he spoke of his wife and family.  I glanced in the back and everyone was scrambling to be the one to give “the gift.”

As I was in the front seat, I was passed a $100 bill.  We paid Kita his fare and then within the fold of his fare was his gift.  He unfolded the bills as we were exiting his cab.  He looked at me and said, “Oh, no you didn’t mean to give me all of this…”  I nodded, yeses followed with pats and squeezes from all.  Kita asked if he could give me a hug?  I reached across what was once a huge chasm, now only a mere arm rest and hugged this incredible father, this amazing man with all my might.  He said, ”Oh no, now I might cry”  as huge tears fell out of his eyes.  One of us responded with, “Oh now we are all crying.”  And we were, and as we looked back from the sidewalk, there was Kita his head in his hands sobbing.  “Oh, fear not for unto you is born this day…”

The Met has the most incredible Christmas tree with Neapolitan crèche which brought more tears to our already tear streaked faces.  From there we paid a brief visit to the great masters.  I needed to see Steve’s and my favorite of the great masters, Caravaggio.  I found only one “The Denial of St. Peter” but as I stood there I could hear Steve, “Look at the way the light shines on their faces, their expressions, their hands…”  Oh no, nothing can ever take away those memories.

Tree at the Met

Caravaggio "The Denial of St. Peter"

It was time to leave.  We hailed a taxi back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and wait for our car to the airport.  Grabbing a cab, we piled in and right off the bat Carolyn says to the driver, “So, what’s your name?”  He looked terrified.  Of course, I was again in the front seat and tried to calm his fright by making small talk.  

Barry was from Liberia.  He had left the country 12 years ago due to unrest and civil war.  He worked part time as a cab driver and was selling real estate on the side.  He was saving his money to try to begin to buy real estate in Liberia because there was much rebuilding now that their wars had stopped.  Barry was 29 years old.  He had just married a French Canadian and spoke, his tribal language, English and French.  He was a U.S. Citizen and was proud to be one.  Barry was bright and eager and there were no limits to what life had in store for him.  

This time it was my turn.  I looked to the back and gave the signal, everyone nodded in agreement.  Handing him his gift, we opened the taxi doors to hear Barry exclaiming, “All of this for me, it can’t be, it can’t be…”  We all waved and called out “Merry Christmas, may God bless you…”

This should be the end of our story, but no there’s one more.  We flew Southwest out of Newark.  We had lots of time to spare so we went to grab some lunch.  The only restaurant we found was Mexican food...of all things, when from San Antonio, you never eat Mexican food out of state...never!  But there we were, at a small corner table with a young waitress asking for our order.  As we went around the table giving her our individual orders she listened, smiled and nodded.  She then exchanged small talk with us and before leaving repeated back verbatim   that we were having.  We remarked on how amazing her memory was, and there was more small talk.  She took an order from another table and left.  She brought us our drinks, laughed and was so full of joy, it spilled from every corner of her being.  Maria Elena (by this time we were on a first name basis) brought exactly what we ordered and continued to serve us with such precision and grace.  

You know where this is the time we were finished we knew that Maria Elena had dropped out of her first year of college because she had a baby, Michael (she showed us his picture on her phone).  Michael now 2 years, her boyfriend (Michael’s dad) had graduated from college and was working and they were saving money so she could go back to college when Michael was old enough.

She laid down that bill and we were all scrambling, the cash was flowing out of our wallets.  We paid our bill and handed Maria Elena her gift, thank her and telling her to go back to college, she was a very capable and bright young woman.

We were still eating when we heard this loud shriek, hoots of laughter and the most joyful sounds ever imaginable coming from behind a wait station partition.  We all smiled, looking down, trying to hurry to finish our meal when out comes Maria Elena, so full of gratitude and appreciation.  Telling us that no one had ever thought her as worthy as we had.  We hugged and left quickly.  For this we have Jesus, for this we celebrate the birth of Christ our Lord, for this is what Christmas is really about.

Sunday night before we left to go to New York, I felt so burdened by this trip.  I crawled in bed and prayed that God would use this time to show me Christmas. To bless each of the four of us, to bring His richest blessings beyond my wildest imaginations to this time…

Again God far exceeded my greatest expectations!  I challenge each of you to find Christ this season, for if you do, I promise you will be richly blessed beyond anything you might ever imagine.

Ephesians 3:20  ”Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us”


  1. What wonderful stories! Thank you for sharing!

    1. Merry Christmas Kristin, I hope that you and your precious family are filled with God's richest blessings!

  2. Oh Janet. So beautiful! You've made my day! Gayle Longoria

  3. Thank you Gayle, Merry Christmas to you and all your beautiful grand children!

  4. Janet, I loved reading your story and that "the girls" found Christmas in New York. I think you should consider writing a book. I just finished one that was written by a San Antonian that wrote her first book at 80 years old. Please don't wait that long. My quilt bee found Christmas by sponsoring a family of five

  5. I somehow got cut off. Our military family we helped was the most rewarding thing I experienced this holy season. Love you, Jackie

  6. My love to you too my friend and a very merry Christmas!