What Christmas is all About
Once upon a New York Time, there was an old man who sold shoes for a living in a Spanish neighborhood in the Bronx. His name was Jack O'Malley and he owned a shoe store called "Jack's Best Buy!" His was the only business remaining on that part of Broadway, the other stores had all moved out. Jack felt that he needed to keep the past alive by staying there to represent the hard work his people put into that neighborhood. He remembered the people who shopped in his store; the McCarthy family, who bought shoes for their children; Sally, who always helped to clean the front window; and Mr. Buckley who came to get his once-a- week shoe shine. So many people from his community, all gone… some due to old age or they just moved away. How it saddened old Jack to not see their faces any more. Things had changed and so had Jack. Ever since the loss of his beloved wife, he had never been the same; even the store had lost business. Jack had fallen into a deep depression.
Yes, Old Jack had become a temperamental man. People who came to his store found it very hard to deal with him; he had taken to approaching them nasty comments. At times he would chase out customers who brought children into the store. Jack had come to hate children. He could not deal with them because they would run around his store making messes and leaving shoes in wrong places. He would walk over to their parents and say to them, "Is this your kid!" or "Are you watching this rug rat?" He just dreaded when they came into his shop.
But the shop was, after all, the way Jack made his living. He sold shoes to the young and the old. He even sold to the Catholic schools in the neighborhood. But things weren't what they had been. As Jack was becoming more sour and isolated, it was clear that he was losing his business. Fewer and fewer customers were coming to the store to buy. Everything was degenerating, and life seemed bleak. Jack was slowly losing his will to live. If only his wife were still with him. How much he loved her, he would do anything to get her back, let alone, to hear the sound of her voice.
It was Christmas Eve and not a soul had entered the store. It was perhaps the lowest that Jack had ever felt. He was intensely alone. He clutched at his chest where his gold locket was. Closing his eyes, he pressed it hard against his chest and brought to mind the image of her face. He remembered her sweet perfume and her graceful smile. He let the memories of her rush over him, feeling the goose bumps, just like the first day he had laid eyes on her. Jack sighed deeply as he remembered the burial. The wistful memories of joy were overcome by anger, pain and anguish. The anger had become stronger now; it drowned out the sweet moments in time he had shared with his wife. Mingled with traces of tenderness, bitterness was becoming his sole emotion. Though he missed her, he cursed the moment she died.
"My Little Flower, why'd you leave me here alone?", he said silently, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket, and wiping the tears from his eyes. He found it very hard to cry. Old Jack was strong, and men of his time did not cry.
Jack walked around his store looking through the old pictures of shoes he'd show case for the customers. He took out a cloth to wipe the dust from the shoes. He tried to do his best to maintain the store to the way it used to be. He said, "I guess the snow this Christmas is worse then last year. Gee, why does Christmas have to be so cold and lonely?"
He rushed to the door to cover the base with an old beach towel. He shivered from the cold air coming from the base of the door. He stretched it out so that the wind would not pass under the door. As he stood up and brushed off his knees, he happened to turn to the window display, where he saw a young boy standing and staring at the shoe rack. Jack made a face no kid could ever forget, designed especially to scare the boy away. But the mean look did not seem to deter this young boy. He appeared to be very excited about the shoes he saw in the window and a moment later, he was running into the store. Jack felt the familiar anger rising inside him. He wanted to yell at the little boy.
"Mister, can I have those shoes in the window?", asked the boy breathlessly. "Oh son, don't come in here messing up my...." The boy cut Jack short. He was extremely enthusiastic about those shoes. “ No Sir, I'm not going to mess up your store, if that's what you think. I just want to buy those shoes for my Mami." The little boy pointed to the red shoes displayed in the case. "They are just the right size for her, and she’ll be so happy to have them! It's gonna make her smile."
Old Jack breathed deeply to calm himself. He spoke in a grumpy manner, "The shoes are $45, and if you don't have it, get out!" Jack wanted to get the little boy out of the store, but the boy was not intimidated by his ugly remarks. He fingered through his money and the change he had in his pocket.
"Oh man, I have only $39." The boy told him.
Jack growled at the boy as he pointed to the door "Go then, I have no time for you son. Get out!" The young boy didn't flinch at his grumpiness. He looked upon the face of Jack and smiled joyfully.
"But sir, it's for my Mom. You see sir, today is Christmas and I want to buy her these shoes. She would be able to go to Mass with Papi and me. She will look beautiful in these Christmas shoes. They'll fit her well." The little boy walked up to Jack with excitement, "It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size. She makes our Christmas so good at home; it would make her so happy. Most years she just did with out Christmas because she was sick. I hope to get her to go with me to Church. But Papi says she might not make it through the night. But think about it; she'll see Jesus tonight with her new shoes. She'll be so beautiful."
Jack's face suddenly changed, and his anger simmered into a gentle calmness. He swallowed hard as he became aware of his foolish behavior. Jack slowly walked over to the counter to get the keys for the window display. Memories filled his mind of his own past. He could not help but think of the young boy’s mother. He clutched on to the locket and thought to himself, "Church… His mother is sick. My wife was sick on Christmas. She even died on Christmas Eve."
Jack walked back to the showcase. He could not help to look at the boy’s face. He asked him, "Do you go to Church son."
"Yeah, don't you?" The boy replied with a big smile.
"No son. I haven't been to Church for a very long time. Been about 15 years since I last stepped in. I guess Christmas has not been my favorite holiday." Jack said, as he held back some tears, but the boy saw a tear slide from his face.
"Gee sir, you should go see Jesus. Mami always said to me, 'Mijo, when ju get sick, ju go to Jesus no matter what. Jesus wants to heal ju and speak to ju. That's why I love him, and I love ju. So be good to Jesus, because he wants to love ju.'" The boy smiled, giving Jack a cloth from his pocket to wipe his tears, "Isn't that what Christmas is all about?"
Jack choked on the words of the young boy. He was amazed by the faith of the boy that he could not hold back his tears. He opened the case to get the shoes, took a box from a drawer, and placed the red shoes gently in the box. Jack was embarrassed to look into the eyes of the child. With tears, he said to the young boy, " Son, you take these shoes to your Mom. It would make me very happy to know Mom was happy to have shoes for Christmas. Take them to her."
Tears raced down the little boy’s face. He was grateful to receive such a gift. Jack smiled through his tears. "She deserves it. You gave me a gift this Christmas, son. The best gift I have ever received. Please give this to your Mom." He breathed deeply, and said to the young boy, "Thank you son."
The boy rushed to Jack and hugged him. "Thank you sir, Mami will be so happy." As the boy was ready to leave the door with the shoes, Jack called out to him. The boy stopped and turned to Jack, waiting for his remark.
"Son, tell your Mom, if she sees Jesus tonight, please find my wife and tell her, I love her." The boy smiled, "I will tell her sir. Thank you so much and Merry Christmas."
That Little boy was me. That night, old Jack didn't see me at Mass. But he was there for that Christmas Mass after 15 years. At my house it was heaven for me and my family. Mami did pass away that night, but she went with Jesus to a better place. Papi and I were filled with gladness, because Mami got the best gift of all, her red shoes to see Jesus. I came back to visit Jack after Christmas to thank him again. From that day on, I continued to come by after school to help Jack run the store. He even became my sponsor for Confirmation and helped me at the age of 17 to enter the seminary. I will never forget Jack. He later passed on and gave me his locket to hold. Inside the locket, I have a picture of him and his wife. I placed a picture of my mom on the other side of the locket to remember that Christmas Eve. Jack made Christmas for me. Now I know what Christmas is all about, and I have Mom and Jack to thank. I love you both, keep me in your prayers.
From Diary of a Priest written by Juan Rodriguez
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