Someone asked me recently if I had a favorite Christmas kindness memory. I have many but the first one that came to mind happened, almost thirty-years ago.
I was recently divorced. I was working as a waitress at a Pizza Hut restaurant. That year was without a doubt going to be the worst Christmas of my life. It was the year the Cabbage Patch dolls were the big deal and of course my little girls wanted one.
To get one of those dolls that year you had to find a store that was expecting a delivery and wait in line hoping to get one before they ran out, again. I waited out in the cold for Caldor to open, twice with no luck. Even if I got to the head of the line they were only allowing you to purchase one doll and I needed two.
Time was running out. There was only one week left til Christmas. I had one more chance to go wait in line for a doll and decided if I could only get one I would give it to my younger daughter and tell the older one that Santa was giving them to the little kids first and as soon as his elves could make more she could pick out her own. I wondered what I would tell her if Santa left a Cabbage Patch doll for her friends.
I was feeling so lonely that week. Not only was I sad about the dolls but the bills were piling up and I had no idea how I would ever catch up. I seemed to be working day and night with hopes of being promoted to a management position. The girls were missing me and I was missing them.
On my last Friday night shift before Christmas I was hoping to make enough in tips to go wait in the last chance line at Caldor. They were expecting an extra delivery of the dolls at 5:00 p.m. My shift ended at 4.
Friday was always the busiest day of the week. That day it started to sleet right before lunch time. I only had a few customers. At 2:00 it started to snow heavily. Somewhere around 3:30 the server that was supposed to relieve me called out. The manager asked me to stay. We were the only employees left and I did not want to leave her alone. I didn’t make enough to get the dolls anyway. I fought back tears and said a prayer.
We got the okay to close the store at 8:00. At 7:30 a couple came in and ordered. Shortly after I served their food a man came in and walked up to the counter. He looked filthy and he scared me. He told me he was working in New York and was mugged on his way to Penn Station. He borrowed enough money to get a ticket to Trenton, N.J. and walked over the bridge and saw we were open. He went on to tell me he was embarrassed but he wanted to know if he could borrow enough money to get a train ticket to Delaware.
He was either, a homeless person, drug addict, a thief or a combination of all three. He also could have been telling the truth. I asked him to sit down at one of the tables and I made him a hot cup of coffee and gave him two slices of pizza. Whatever he was he was freezing and probably hungry. He said it was the best cup of coffee he ever had in his life. He went on to tell me he just wanted to get home to his wife and daughters. I told him about my lousy day and not being able to get the dolls for my girls.
As he took his last bite of pizza I reached in my pocket and handed him the crumpled fourteen ones I made that day. He insisted I give him my address so he could reimburse me and against better judgment I gave it to him.
As I drove home that night I couldn’t stop the tears. The roads were so icy, I was petrified.
Six days later, Christmas Eve afternoon the doorbell rang. The mailman had a large package. I couldn’t imagine what it could be. I ripped open the box and was stunned to see four Cabbage Patch dolls. I was shaking as I opened the card and ten-one hundred dollar bills fell out.
It said “Thank you for your kindness to a stranger. The money you lent me got me home to my family that night. They thank you too.”
My daughters still talk about how happy they were to get those dolls. I will never forget that man’s kindness.