“Dad, why is Mom hugging the Hippie?”
For a great many years, there hasn’t been a Christmas where that phrase doesn’t pass the lips of at least one family member. It’s often over cups of hot chocolate as we discuss what Christmas means to us.
It was forty years ago and then some. I was about eight and my brother, Jeff, seven. We won’t ever forget that mid-December night; because of the storm … and our miracle. A serious sale at The Bay encouraged us out with our mother on a blustery night. The wind howled, the street lights rattled and in the early nineteen seventies, a snow storm in Hamilton was a real show.
Jeff and I snuggled into the back seat of the Green Pig, an old Chevelle that had been graciously passed on from my grandfather. Mom suddenly cursed and cranked the steering wheel a hard right. In the fury of the storm, our car slid a few treacherous feet before coming to an abrupt stop.
“For crying out loud!” she blurted. “What a jerk! Driving like that in this weather!” Mom was a bit of a scrapper, so we were not surprised when she quickly threw open the door of the Pig. The wind and snow whipped in on us as strained and angry words whipped from my mother’s mouth to the rude Ford driver who had nearly sideswiped us.
“What’s your problem, lady?” the Ford Man demanded and drove on without another word.
Mom got back in our car and we drove the rest of the way home, with me and Jeff grinning over the adventure.
Ten minutes later, we were plunked down in front of our old black and white television, ready to travel to the North Pole with Rudolph. Quickly, the glory of the moment broke as we heard Mom’s breath catch and saw her grab a chair to steady herself.
Amidst the heap of snowsuits, mittens and hats, she couldn’t find her purse.
“Dave … all our money for Christmas was in that purse. Three-hundred dollars! That money was for the gifts and our dinner and everything. It must have fallen out when I opened the door to shout at that guy. I feel sick about it!” My mom’s voice was weak and shaky tone. I was getting scared. She was always so strong.
We were never very well off, and pretty much through the year, no extras were bought. But Christmas was special around the Crawford house. Santa brought us new socks and underwear, new pajamas and blue jeans and toys too! Jeff and I weren’t worried. We knew Santa made the presents at the North Pole. Mom may have lost her money, but we were covered.
My mother cursed her uncontrollable temper and began to sob, “What are we going to do, Dave?”
Dad set out on foot to go to the scene of the near accident. He was gone for at least an hour and came home looking like the Abominable Snowman, especially with such a miserable look on his face. While he was gone, my mom, Jeff and I tore every inch of our house apart looking for that sacred purse.
When all resources were exhausted, my mother collapsed into the sofa and, with her face in her hands, wept for a good, long time. She was so forlorn and as the storm continued to lash at the windows of our cozy house, the desperation she felt seemed to creep into our young hearts as well.
Some hours later, in the dead middle of that violent winter storm, a barely audible knock came to our front door. I ran to open it and, as young as I was, wondered who would dare venture out on a night like this.
I pulled the door open as the wind fought me for it, and then I stood back frightened as I looked up at the face of a tall man, with long hair and a scraggly beard, wearing a headband. He was dressed in torn blue jeans, old boots and a tattered, denim winter jacket.
It wasn’t just his size that intimidated me, it was his look. He was the kind of person my mother and father had told us to stay away from. I knew they were going to be angry I had opened the door to this man, but I was more afraid of him than I was of them. This man who stood before me, without the slightest semblance of a smile, was the forbidden, the intolerable, the socially unacceptable … hippie.
“Pat Crawford?” His low, deep voice rang in my ears. I did not say a word. “Does she live here?”
He was asking for my mother and I was petrified.
Just then my mother’s voice boomed from the kitchen. “Does one of you kids have that front door open? Close it now!” My mom came into the living room and she too was taken aback by the weather-beaten man who stood in our doorway. He was pretty much covered with snow and had his left arm curled into his side, holding something that too, was covered in snow.
“Can I help you?” Mom asked.
“Are you Pat Crawford?”
He brushed away the snow from the object. “I believe this is yours.”
The removal of the snow revealed the sacred black purse. My Mother gasped!
“I found it on the road a couple blocks away. I couldn’t find this street, so it took me a while to get here,” the Hippie-man explained.
My mother’s eyes filled with tears and she flung her arms around the neck of this stranger and hugged him like he was one of her own.
At that moment, Dad wandered into the living room to see what was going on.
“Why is Mom hugging the hippie?” I asked him.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Mom said and loosened her grip on the man.
“I had to open it to get the identification. There’s quite a bit of money in it, so I knew you’d be worried,” the man responded.
“You dear, sweet man. You don’t know what you’ve done. That’s my children’s Christmas in there. I never expected to see that money again. Here, let me give you some … a reward.” My mother was blissful.
“No thank you. But could I please use your phone to call my wife? She’ll be worried about me.”
His response shocked us all. We didn’t think of a hippie being married.
“Certainly. Here, here. But we’d like to do something. Are you from this area?”
“No ma’am. We’re from the north. We moved down here to get work. We haven’t been too lucky yet.”
“Would you and your wife be willing to spend your Christmas dinner here with us? Things tend to be tight the rest of the year, but Christmas is our time.”
My mother’s offer seem to catch him by surprise. “That would be nice. Thank you.”
With that he made his call and then left our house. As he re-entered the world of the blinding blizzard, my mother broke down in tears.
“Who would have thought that such a man, someone so hard on his own luck, would be so honest?” she said. “Kids, this is what Christmas is all about. I believe we have just had our own little miracle.”
Tom Jenner and his wife Mary spent that Christmas with us. We had a wonderful time and they shared their dreams of one day having a family like ours.
As children that year, we learned to accept people for what they are, not what they look like. As adults, to this day, we believe that people, by nature, are really very good.
Colleen Crawford is recently retired and enjoys volunteering in her community, photography, writing, nature, family and friends.
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