Guest Post: The Kindness of Strangers

Scary Snowman by Zeusandhera via Flickr

Our first holiday spent as a family, I cobbled together all the decorations that I could, amazed by all of the kindness that others foisted upon me. “Here,” my brother’s wife’s mother insisted, filling up the back of my rather large SUV with a white aluminum Christmas tree from the early 1960s. She added to this a heap of blue ornaments and strings of blue lights so old I didn’t know if they would actually work in any outlets. I whistled Joy To The World the whole way home, amazed by her generosity and my good fortune as I happen to love vintage stuff like that, especially now that I could happily sing “Blue Christmas” any time I walked near our tree.

The very next weekend, my mother-in-law came down to our condo, under the pretense of wanting to visit with us, but when she began unloading her car and filling our living room with bags of Christmas stuff that she’d just had “lying around,” I realized that it was sort of a sham. She was unloading some of her stuff onto us. Which probably would have been okay with me, had her taste run less Country Crafter and more Tacky Vintage like I liked, but no, now we were saddled with matching Santa and Mrs. Claus pot holders that couldn’t actually be used to handle hot dishes, unless, of course, you wanted to char Mrs. Claus’s poor face off. And let us not forget the light-up snow man wall-hanging that flashed artfully in a peculiar pattern, while singing a tinny version of “Frosty The Snowman” that sounded like it came straight from the bowels of hell. While I smiled on the outside, inside, I cringed. What was I going to DO with all of this stuff? We had no storage and some of it, well, was just crap.

Later in the week, some old friends dropped by with a Santa Claus serving platter and about ten boxes of unused Christmas cards that depicted a particularly brutal crucifixion scene while they were “in the area” followed by my sister-in-law dropping off some additional ornaments for the OTHER fake tree that had been left at our door by another set of friends. Dave and I sat on our couch, surrounded by piles of Christmas cast-offs, laughing at our status as People Who Need Your Old Christmas Stuff.

That year, we put up all of the second-hand decorations, mish-mashed together and the effect was sort of cute (if you squinted), and over the years, we replaced the old stuff with newer stuff. The hand-me- downs piled in our basement until the year my brother-in-law moved into his own apartment. Whistling Joy To The World, I loaded his car full of “Christmas stuff that I just happened to have lying around.”

I watched him pull away, the Santa Claus pot holder glaring at me from the back window as the cycle of passing off old Christmas stuff onto the new home owner repeated itself once again.

—Becky Harks, Mommy Wants Vodka

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