and I'm sure I'll be checking it more than twice over the next several weeks. Actually, this is the first time I've made a Christmas to-do list in a long time. I haven't been in much of a holiday mood by the time December rolled around over the past few years. I'm not sure if I've just been sad or mad or maybe just not mended yet. Somehow this year seems different; I'm not sure why, but I am thankful for this feeling of Christmas anticipation. I almost want to throw open the window and shout, "I"m back!" I know I won't, but that doesn't mean I won't still feel like it. Christmas is coming and I have things to do!
Anyone who really knows me well is aware of how much I love Christmas - I inherited the joy gene from my dad. This was a man who loved everything about the Christmas season: the birth of the King, decorating, Christmas carols, baking, shopping, playing Santa - for us and for those much less fortunate than we were, his Johnny Cash Christmas album - even untangling Christmas lights. Most of November was spent planning the year's holiday extravaganza - but Daddy's most important task was finding the perfect family for his secret Santa program. I guess I should give you the back story on my father's annual holiday tradition - as important to him as making sure the train under the tree made the rounds of his carefully placed Christmas village.
When I was eight and we were living in Hyannisport, about a week before Thanksgiving, Daddy had a serious heart attack. He was unable to return to work for a good long while - medical care not being nearly as advanced as it is now. I'm sure my eight-year-old self didn't realize how bad things really were - Christmas was coming after all. One day, after the decorations were up, the stockings were hung and Christmas vacation had begun, there was a knock at the door. My sister and I ran to open it - and there stood a tall, elegant lady in a mink coat. "Does Charles Marshall live here?" she asked. "Yes," I answered while my three-year-old sister screamed, "Daddy! Daddy!" and ran for the kitchen. With that, the lady turned to the big black car parked at the curb in front of our little red brick house at 95 Smith Street and to the uniformed chauffeur, wearing a hat no less, standing at attention near the rear passenger door. She snapped her fingers at him - I'm not kidding - and he dutifully opened the trunk and began to carry gaily wrapped boxes festooned with holiday ribbons to our door. By then my mother and father were behind us in the doorway. "What is all this?" my momentarily dumbstruck father inquired. Now the boxes full of food and other holiday treats were arriving as my sister and I looked on in wonder. Had Santa come early? Maybe this was Mrs. Claus - who knew? My father, humbled by the amazing generosity of this woman, asked, "Who do we thank for these gifts?" The lady smiled and said, "Many years ago, my husband was ill and out of work at Christmas time. We were worried about how we were going to provide for our family, as I am sure you have been these past weeks. One day, a couple we did not know came to our door, their arms laden with gifts of food and toys for our children. When we asked their names and who we should thank for this kindness, they simply told us to pass it on when we were able. And every Christmas since then, my husband and I have sought out a family in the same situation in which we had found ourselves all those years ago - and we have shared the gift of Christmas kindness. So when you are able, pass it on." She wished us a Merry Christmas and waved as her chauffeur opened the car door for her. We had no idea who she was and we never saw her again - but that very next year, after we had moved to Florida, my father found a family that was experiencing hardship during the holiday season and he made sure we found a way to share our many blessings with a family less fortunate.
And so, for the next twenty years, Daddy's secret Santa program brought Christmas to families we did not know in the form of nourishment for both the body and holiday spirit. I hope they have "passed it on" and shared the joy of giving. I may have inherited the Christmas joy gene from him, but my father taught me the joy of sharing.