It was almost Christmas break. The kids were excited, the teachers were excited, heck, even the parents were excited. Today we would have our class parties, do our little gift exchanges then say goodbye for the next two weeks. Two weeks that we could relax and enjoy our families. Two weeks of holiday parties, friends and celebration. Two weeks of sleeping in and Harry Potter movie marathons. Yep. Everyone was excited.
There was a committee at our school that had been working hard to connect needy families with donated gifts. Like other organizations, this was something we did every year. Some of the gifts were grocery vouchers, some were just presents, wrapped and labeled with tags such as, “six year old boy, likes Minions and the color blue.” By Christmas Break the committee had grouped all gifts by family and had giant boxes waiting to be delivered.
I was anxious to get home, Gracie got back from college that very night. But when a driver backed out I reluctantly agreed to deliver the presents after school. When the bell rang and the last bus pulled out, I had my coat on, ready to go. I stopped by the gym and loaded the big black garbage bags, heavy with gifts. One bag, two bag, THREE bags! That was a lot of gifts. As I loaded the last bag, ready to hop in my car when Susan came running out. “Wait, we are going to send the left over school lunch stuff too, it will all be rotten or expired when school starts again.”
I sighed, “Okay.” My mind was saying, “hurry, hurry, hurry.” I realized this was not going to be a simple drop off on the way home, this was -park the car, haul five loads- kind of drop off. With the mom’s cell phone number in hand I started my car. I tried calling then, but no one answered. “What now?” I guess I would go home and try again a little later.
When Scott came home, the car was still loaded and I was starting to worry about the fruit, would it freeze in the car? Should I bring it in? This was turning into a big job and I was getting irritated. I tried one more time and this time the mom answered, frazzled, “Hello?”
I explained that I had some stuff from our school to drop off and her voice brightened. She was at Walmart and was on her way home, she would meet me there in 20 minutes. This time I had Scott with me and we followed the directions to their apartment. We drove downtown and when we pulled up in front of a bar my heart fell. This is where they lived? Above a bar? I grabbed my first load and went up narrow stairs and down a dingy maze-like hall. Filled with strong cooking orders, I could hear the band below, a thumping bass reverberating through my feet.
Scott followed with another load, and I stood in front of the door, braced myself and knocked. No answer. I knocked again, no answer. Scott returned with another load. “No one is home,” I hissed. I was getting mad, this had turned into a big job, Gracie was going to be home in one hour and I wanted to be there when she arrived. “Should we ask one of the neighbors?”
“Ask them what?” Scott replied.
“I don’t know, if they will hold this stuff for them?”
“Let’s get the rest of the stuff and give them a little time,” Scott. The most kind and patient human on earth.
We trudged up the stairs and hall with the last load. I carried a milk crate full of individual cartons of milk, by far the heaviest thing I had carried. I stopped twice on the stairs and grumbled the whole way. No one wanted stupid milk.
Waiting outside the door I tried to call again. No answer. We leaned on the walls silently, waiting. “We will give them a few more minutes,” Scott counseled. I just nodded. I was getting into one of my tizzies. The ones my girls tease me about.
Just when I was done. Done waiting. Done doing favors. Ready to start hauling the stuff back down to the car, I heard a door slam downstairs. I heard what sounded like a thousand feet pounding up the stairs and down the hall. Around the corner came a herd of small children. They raced around Scott and I and stood in a circle around the packages, reaching out and touching them, gently picking one or another up.
And the milk? The stupid milk I hauled up the stairs and delivered? The youngest one toddled past the presents, ignoring them, and held a milk up to me, eyes shining. “Milk” he said, like it was the best thing he had ever seen.
Okay, my heart grew three sizes that day. I will never, NEVER forget the look on those kids faces, the incredulous joy and wonder, and how happy a simple carton of milk made one small boy.