The children were playing in the narrow streets, shivering from cold. However, they were used to the cold while playing outside—whoever took care of them could not afford a nice school coat AND a play coat! The scene is being played over and over again inthe neighborhoods of the disinherited during Christmas time. Many are hoping that some church, some organization, or just anybody will do their annual drive-by with some food, toys, and maybe a bike. Of course, a nice coat or two would be nice, but the children never had high hopes—they had been disappointed too many times in their young lives. This was especially true of one family whose house you had to enter from the back door…the front porch was too dangerous!
I recall visiting this working class family—father doing odd jobs, mostly in construction, but usually not working much in the bad cold and rainy season. He didn’t mind working in the rain if the company was on a tight deadline and encouraged them to work. If some got sick and could not work, oh well, such was the business of working outside. The father has a nice pick-up that had to always be kept in good-running conditions as he dares not risk missing work while being stuck in a pick-up on the side of the road. He has already been down that road.
Missing work was dangerous—one could lose the job, and then be unable to pay for the housing for the family. Plus, he took pride in working for his family. He wanted so much more for his family than what was provided for him. He regretted not having a better command of the English language, but he was needed to help his father do odd jobs and had to drop out of the school in the 5th grade. He had planned to go back, but having to bring in money for his own mom, dad, and six brothers and sisters was much more important. He had dreams, but the years had not been kind to him. He was just grateful to work almost year-around to provide for his own family, send money back to his mom since his father had a heart-attack from doing too much strenuous work for too long, and not getting enough rest. His father wanted more for him just like he was now wanting more for his wife and their three children, while planning for a fourth in about two months. He loved his father and respected him for doing so much hard work. He could never understand some others in his neighborhood who had already lost their dreams, and did whatever just to get by. He hoped he would never follow their path that usually led to jail, prison, an early death, or just looking like dead men walking.
Having a large family might be rough economically, the father had thought, but it would be better for his wife’s support if he died too early. He didn’t have much in the way of recreation so he enjoyed his few beers, relaxing with the children in front of the television, and the pleasures derived from being married to his long-time sweetheart. Maybe this year, some group would give his children the toys that he could not buy, and maybe some coats. He finally had saved enough money and with his friends could finally fix the front door to open properly, and tear down the rotten stairs and put in cement stairs. As a cement worker, he had repaired so many roads, sidewalks, and freeways that he had the skills to help fix up their small house.
Inside the home was the mother, doing her best to take care of three children, and sometimes her sister’s two children—one with a mental and physical challenge. The mother is also pregnant, but continues to do odd jobs, such as cleaning homes while her widowed mother helps her keep her own house clean, and looks after the elementary children. They don’t have much furniture, but they do have a nice car since the father never wants his wife to be at the mercy of the elements or strangers, while waiting in a disabled car. She felt proud whenever she had to go shopping with the children and her mother. Everywhere she drove, people smiled. They didn’t always smile when she drove the old car that sounded like a barking dog, smoked, and often slid in the rain on the bald tires. She was so proud of her husband working hard. They could have bought a much-cheaper car, but dependable transportation was much more important with her having to be the family driver, and sometimes help her sister get around, as well as some other friends whose cars often died on them.
This mother and father didn’t have much, but every Christmas some church or other group would drive by and give them fruit, nuts, candy, and sometimes some dishes and pots for the house. She didn’t like having to get pregnant every two or three years, but having the children made her husband so proud, and giving him what he wanted wasn’t so bad, except when she would really have a headache! He was such a good man and didn’t drink too much. He always brought the paycheck home and they figured out how to pay for the house, utilities, get food, pay some bills, and use the gadgets that gave them and their children so much fun and kept their minds off the challenges of always being so near poverty. She was glad that they had saved enough money to get that front porch fixed. She would feel so embarrassed whenever someone almost felt through the rotten stairs, and stumbled against the make-shift door. She would then have to holler out the window and tell them to please go to the back door.
The children were always feeling bad whenever a teacher or some church person came calling and they had to tell them to come to the back door. Soon, the front porch would be fixed, and they would have a real door. Gradually, they would get some dining room furniture, but the boxes and broken chairs from the dump or from the curbs of others would do just fine. To have a real front door, and a safe porch would always put a smile on her face as she thought about that. Maybe they didn’t have a whole lot, but little by little they were getting ahead. While watching others on television getting new furniture for Christmas, or having their house get fixed from Hurricane Harvey gave her hope that maybe, someday, they would be on tv, smiling and crying while some kind people fixed up their house and filled their home with new furniture, gifts and some clothes. In the meantime, she would take care of herself as best she could, eating what they could afford, looking to the day when she could fill the house with fruits and vegetables, and go to the doctor more often than now. She just hoped the baby she was carrying would not come out with some form of disability like her nephew. Her sister’s husband did his best to provide for the family, but just never had enough money for proper food his wife needed, and for all the doctor visits she was suppose to make. She, too, sometimes had a kind person come around during Christmas with a little help; she just wished that Christmas time was more than just a drive-by once a year.
NEXT TIME: She used her car so much for others, but now her car was dying. Maybe a drive-by Christmas would help her in time before the car died as she carried people to doctor visits, find them housing, get to work, take others to work, and take young people to their practices and games. Maybe this 2017 Christmas Drive-by would be a dependable SUV or van. Well, Christmas was still a few days away…maybe.