I don't remember the exact year, but it was in the late 1950s. Mother took me and my sisters downtown, on the bus, to shop day-after-Christmas sales. Reaching the top of the escalator inside the grandest department store in the city, I vividly recall my shock and dismay. Every single shelf was wiped clean of the Christmas goodies we sought...except for one forlorn little red yarn Santa doll.
"Awwww," we cried in unison, "Nobody wanted him!" So, probably for that reason alone, we wanted him. While mother paid, my sisters and I caressed him lovingly and decided to name him "Jimmy Christmas." Then we took him back home, on the bus, and gave him a place of honor on our Christmas tree.
For years afterwards, his annual appearances were warmly welcomed with multiple retelling of the story of how nobody wanted our little red Jimmy, except, of course, for us!
I think it was the year I married and had my own first Christmas tree that I became the sole guardian of Jimmy Christmas. By that time, his little limbs were starting to fade to orange, but he remained cherished, and when we gathered we told the story of how we found him, and how much we wanted him when no one else did.
I have never verbalized this before, but I think my attachment to Jimmy comes from seeing him as a symbol of a family legacy that spans generations.
Mother often told me about frequent visits from hungry men who would ride the rails looking for work during the Great Depression. Whenever they knocked at her door, my grandmother would welcome them inside and feed them a hearty meal. If grandmother was not at home, mother was instructed to tell the gentleman to wait on the porch while she fixed him a sandwich "to go." Later it was learned that these men had devised a system to alert those who followed them to the identity of benevolent women such as my grandmother.
"Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or see you thirsty and give you drink?"
Growing up, I often witnessed stray cats, thin, hungry and tired, hobble to our back door as if they, too, had been alerted to our address. Without fail, mother welcomed them in, fed them and offered a place to call home....an opportunity I not once saw refused!
"The just man regardeth the life of the beast."
Today, with varying degrees of success, I try hard to continue the giving legacy of my mother and grandmother. I do know for certain, however, that my daughters are well accomplished in this manner of living. Each one of them is compassionate and kind, and I often learn from observing them.
I think I will hang on to Jimmy Christmas for awhile, even though his little red felt hat is now starting to fade to pink. I look forward to introducing him to my grandchildren as our family symbol of five generations of open doors and open hearts on behalf of God's most needy creatures....especially those whom no one else wants.
By the time I hand Jimmy down to the next caretaker, he may well be faded to all white...an ageless, timeless symbol of those ancient words that wise men and women still honor today...."Love one another...."