Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Dec. 31, 2010

Unexpected holiday gifts

On Christmas afternoon, youngest daughter Katie related a comment her friend made that caused me to think of another Christmas Day of many years ago. It was a time when Christmas celebrations were coming out of our ears. Along with our own, we had one with my first husband's family, another with my folks and a third with husband Art's Mom and brother. Art's aunt had still yet another as did his daughter Karen. For good measure, we usually had a meal with Art's cousin and her hubby as well.

Since only two of these get-togethers were in the same town and the distance between those farthest apart was more than 900 miles, a lot of traveling was involved. Part of our arrangement involved leaving our home Christmas afternoon and driving to Kansas City where Karen lived. But she had other celebrations earlier that same day, so it was easiest for us to eat out.

With the exception of Chinese restaurants, few places are open on Christmas Day. So on this particular evening, we chose a small one located on the northeast edge of Kansas City not far from Karen's home. It had a small buffet and, while the food was nothing special, it was warm and tasty. I have no idea what circumstance brought the others there that evening, but the clientele looked remarkably average - young, old, kids, etc..

But something special happened there that night. When we were almost finished, a man who appeared to be in his 40s who had been sitting at a table with two younger men, arose and went to a nearby table. He leaned toward the people seated there and spoke quietly. Soon, he moved on to the next table. I had my back to him, but Art could see him clearly and watched, wondering what was happening. After he visited a few tables, he noticed the man had several of the restaurant's bills in his hand.

Art leaned toward me and said it appeared the man was picking up other customers' bills.

Soon the man reached our table. In a very humble manner, bowing slightly as he had at the other tables, he quietly asked if he could take our bill. While still not exactly certain what was happening, Art said he could.

Then he went on to other tables.

Once he had visited all of them, he walked to the cash register and took out his wallet.

Someone began clapping. Soon we all joined in.

When the transaction was completed, he put his wallet away, turned slowly toward the customers, acknowledged the appreciative applause by waving shyly and smiling slightly. Then, with a quiet "Merry Christmas," he left.

What happened that night made Art think of a similar event the year he moved to Kansas from Wisconsin. He had a teaching position in Kansas City and the college had closed at noon on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. An hour later, Art began driving to his parents home in Wisconsin. Two hours later, snow began falling. The 10-hour drive turned into a 16-hour trip.

He assumed the weather would clear by the time he was to return to Kansas City on Sunday, but around Des Moines, snow began falling. Thirty miles later, the snow was thick and the road was slick. Traffic, what little there was, slowed to 30 miles per hour and there was only one set of tracks on the Interstate. Many vehicles were in the ditch.

Then, near Truro, a wheel bearing failed in his car. He coaxed the car to a natural gas pumping station and eventually caught the attention of Lester Freeman, the only employee on duty that night. They talked a bit and Art emphasized the car was an old one and he had planned on getting another, so what happened to it was not important. But getting back to Kansas City for work was.

Four hours later when Lester's shift ended, he took Art to his home and gave him a bed. About 5 a.m., Art awoke to the smell of bacon frying. After he downed coffee, toast, two sunny-side up eggs and several slices of that bacon he'd smelled, Lester drove him the 20 miles to Osceola where Art could catch a bus for Kansas City.

When they stopped at the depot, Art tried to pay Lester, but Lester would have none of it. His response to Art's offer was, "I'd like to think that if one of my kids had broken down near your home, you'd do the same."

Then they shook hands and Lester drove off.

So what do these two stories have to do with the comment Katie's friend Brian made? He had said he could think of nothing sadder than eating at a restaurant on Christmas Day. I assume it was probably prompted by thoughts of home-cooked meals and the joy of having family nearby. So eating at a restaurant might mean missing those things.

But for us, that is not what comes to mind. So even though we no longer travel on Christmas Day, after the presents under our tree as well as those in the stockings brought by Santa are opened, someone may suggest we eat at our favorite Chinese restaurant. It happened this year and the idea was quickly endorsed by all. So off we went.

And as a bonus, Art and I had the opportunity to reflect about two people who made a pair of holidays special for us in a way no wrapped package ever could.

From the left, Katie, Art, Mariya's partner Lacey, "adopted" son Tim, older daughter
Mariya and "adopted" daughter Nadja in front of our Christmas day dining choice.

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