Thursday, December 6, 2012

Forty-Six Cents

I am re-posting this story for today...

Because I love this story. Because it speaks to me of what Christmas is,
... and should be!

So bear with me as I tell you a story with nothing more to eat than hot chocolate provided by Critic's Family Restaurant...
And an old couple's sacrifice.

It was a cold, windy December night.
I was bell-ringing for the Salvation Army outside a mall in upstate New York.
It was the week before Christmas, and people were hurrying.
But smiling.
And nodding.
And dropping change in my bucket.
And "quiet money", too.

Beth and Mandy took turns being with me because it was bitter.
Temps were in the teens.
Wind chill? Straight out of the west, the direction I was facing. The temperature considering that?
Much lower.

A car pulled up, an older SUV with signs of wear. A driver emerged, came around the side, and opened the door for two elderly folks, a man and a woman.
They were not dressed for the weather. I hurried over and opened the mall door for them to get inside, and ached for the length of time it took them to walk, supporting one another, into the mall.
"Thank you," the woman signed.
The man, hunched and thin, struggled to turn his bent head to smile at me. He dipped his chin lower in acknowledgement.
"You're welcome," I signed back, one of two signs I know. The other is "Feed me. Now."
(Not really, but I need a little comic relief before I tell you the rest.)

Time passes. Beth went inside to get me coffee. The restaurant actually sent out hot chocolate. Free. 
So nice...

It was growing late. Colder. Windier. Snowier.
The elderly couple came back through the door, one tiny bag slung on the woman's arm.
There was no driver. 
No car. 
No one was waiting for them, and I couldn't talk to them because I don't sign. Beth was a sign language major in college, but she was inside.

The man clung to the woman's arm. She held on tight to him, the bag and her small purse. They wore nothing but windbreakers, thin and unlined. No warm scarves. No heavy jacket to protect them. I stood there, trying to tell them to go back inside, that I'd come get them when their driver came.

Of course they didn't understand me and I 'bout near cried.

Beth came out just then. She signed to them and the woman smiled, understanding, but then said they better wait.

The car pulled up a few moments later. By now, this old couple had to be frozen. Literally. But as the woman tried to head toward the car, the old man pulled his arm free and walked toward me.

The woman waited, a sweet smile on her utterly cold face.

The man came up to me. He tugged off the glove he wore, then went searching in his pockets for long moments, hunting up money. Bit by bit the hand withdrew coins.
A quarter. A dime. A nickel. Another nickel. A penny.

Forty-six cents.

He reached for me. His gaze rested on his own hand in explanation.

His hand was deformed with arthritis. Gnarled. Twisted. Turned. Virtually unusable. His hunched shoulders and bent neck were probably due to the same condition. My heart ached that this gentle, loving, bent man could no longer do the little things most of us take for granted. Like pulling change from a pocket.

His gaze trained on mine. I could see he was afraid the money would drop into the snow and be lost so he wanted me to put it into the kettle.

"I understand," I said. Beth signed the words for me. 
"Merry Christmas and thank you."

He smiled.
Oh, that smile.
It was like God himself smiled at me through that bent, aged face. Cold. Wind-burnt. Poor.

Like the widow who shared from her lack, this man's sacrifice came from his need.

That was years ago, but I never face a problem, a predicament, a moment when I don't see the love and devotion of that couple to each other. To God. To others. And that gnarled hand groping for forty-six cents.

And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.


  1. Crying over the keyboard....

    Thanks for a great start to the day, Ruthy.

    And shame on those places that don't allow bell ringers outside their stores.

    Blessed Advent, Julie

    1. Amen to both! Tears of empathy cleanse the soul....

      And actions are our gift from God. Jules, you bless me every day!

  2. *sniff sniff*

    Are you going to use this in a book someday?

    Finally got to put some "quiet money" in a red kettle yesterday afternoon. Love doing that! :)

    *hugs* And Merry Christmas!

    1. Mel, you're a sweetheart! And money adds up.... And yes, this is actually going into a book I'm working on, it fits perfectly.

      Such an inspiration, that old couple. Such a gift from God, their loving example.

      Then I heard on K-Love this morning about a family that practiced giving away 7 items/day, each person... and how embarrassed they were at how easy it was.

      I think that's a great campaign, right? A real "cleansing".....

      Need and Want.... so different! And how easily I forget that!

  3. I'm with Melanie- sniff sniff and no hot chocolate here :-( we ARE getting breakfast though- coming off night shift and they're cooking christmas breakfast across the street for those of us on nights. then dog to the doggy dentist - hope all goes well- I worry every time they're under anesthesia...


    1. Susanna, you're so good to your dog... My kids would have been THRILLED if I'd been half as solicitous of them as you are of the dog...

      Mostly they've forgiven me and most of their dentures FIT.


    2. well I'd never heard of a doggy dentist but I have now and I tell ya it's cheaper than a human one that's for sure! they weren't able to save her tooth but did get it pulled and said she should feel better. I didn't even realize it was bothering her :-( now for me - I know I'm in deep poopy with dentists- I'm terrified of them - never liked losing teeth as a kid either even though it meant a dime (yep I'm that old LOL a quarter was hitting the big time...)I get a lot of looks/comments at work on spending money on 'just dogs' but as long as I have a job and can pay the basics then I'll take the best care I can of my dogs - they've given so much to me. I guess it would be different if I had kids and was out of work.

      glad their dentures fit! :-)

  4. Sigh. Yes, that is what Christmas is all about.

    I love this story. You need to make it a Christmas tradition.

    All I can think is how full of humble gratitude that couple's hearts were to give what they had. No gift is ever too small when given like that.

    And in these days when fewer people carry cash, it's a great reminder to always have cash on hand this time of year. I hate walking past a kettle and not drop something in.

    1. Jan, I agree. And bell ringers know that not everyone will be able to give, but they also know they're a visible sign or mercy and giving... And I love enthusiastic bell-ringers! :) Which makes me a dork of giant proportions!

      I remember the bell ringers of my youth were people who had received services or goods from the Army... now they let volunteers of all kinds ring, and I like that so much! It's fun to give back. I remember how excited I was as a child, to find people with a Thanksgiving or Christmas basket of food at the door....

      What a blessing.

      My father always mocked the food they put in, but I knew it was a gesture of love and understanding from the folks coming to the door. That couldn't have been easy, to approach a door and know that the parents hid inside while a small child came to the door to accept their largesse....

      Generous spirits beget sweet emotion.... and sometimes embarrassment.

    2. Yes, sometimes embarrassment. I think pride is our greatest sin. How much do we miss out on because our pride stands in the way of us seeing the Spirit in the giving?

  5. Ruthy, thank for re-sharing this wonderful story! I think of you every time I pass a bell ringer. You motivated me to dig in my wallet the other day leaving Walmart! :)

    1. Ah, I'll say it was God's motivation and the Holy Spirit's blessing on our houses!!!

      We are so blessed to do what we do. Be who we are. There but for the grace of God and a directionally challenged angel go I.... :)

  6. ya'll don't shoot me now but...I can't stand the bell ringing - just drives me up the wall :-( I guess it works since they keep doing it year after year but I've actually put $ in when they weren't clanging the bell and my preference is to add the amount to my purchases like my grocery store does- they have a place on their card swiper where you can donate preset amounts or add your own amount (high tech bell ringing!) for me it's just the awful noise - it bothers me - same with anything noisy - music, crowds...shudder...


  7. Ah, Susanna.... I put my gun away, honey, so you're safe here!


    Isn't it funny how different we are, all of us? I love it because it reminds me of people reaching out, being nice to those less fortunate. I like the visual and audio reminders.

    You know what else I like now???? Texting a donation, as long as it goes to the organization and not into Verizon's pocket. What an easy $10 that is, when there's a tragedy or disaster.

    I don't have to THINK because we know that thinking is dangerous for me!!!

  8. Well now when I see them I'll just think of your story! I do like a visual and seeing them it's just loud noises I guess. Not really sure because I do believe in the cause

  9. Ruthy this had just as much of an impact on me as the last time. And with your first hand ASL source, have you ever considering writing a deaf character?