Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: The Christmas Yard (part 2, The Christmas Spirit)

Those of you who read last week’s blog may recall where we left off in our story. That story was about a small town called Christmas Yard located beneath a large pine tree that the townsfolk climb to decorate each year to celebrate Christmas, whether those people were religious or not. Those who were not, simply did so to acknowledge that this time of year is especially kind and gentle, a season admirable at least for its effects if not for its faith. The religious folk then, as they still do today, acknowledged its spiritual side, inviting others to join them in the celebration, whether merely in appreciation of the general goodness of the season or an expression of faith in the specific goodness of God.

And that was, the reader may recall, more or less, the basis on which Reverend Griffith was operating when he took his Monday morning walk around Christmas Yard, carrying packages to be delivered to folks who had never gone to his church but had palpable needs. He visited an old Welsh woman, Mrs. Llymder, who over her parents’ objections had converted to Catholicism when she married her husband and, even though he died some twenty years before at the age of 49, had remained Catholic after his death. Another whom Reverend Griffith visited, Mr. Umaskini, also lived alone, having worked mainly manual labor jobs—his last being in a glass factory—until his health had run out. He now lived in a house owned by his last boss, the owner of that same glass factory, located outside the Yard under the divan, where also Mr. Pínqióng (pronounced Pin-chiong) worked. That factory owner, a man with the interesting name of Acus Mitis Dives, was a mild-mannered man of wealth, whom everyone familiarly called Forman Acus, which title the workers regularly mispronounced as “Foramen Acus,” albeit, as the owner, he was much more than the plant’s foreman. He actually charged Mr. Umaskini no rent—only asking for upkeep on the property in return for his living there—and made sure that Mr. Pínqióng always received some kind of Christmas bonus, not only because Mr. Pínqióng was a hard worker but because he had a family. In fact, Foramen Acus made sure that all his workers got some kind of bonus at Christmas, something not all the proprietors of all the businesses in Christmas Yard did.

These, along with the impoverished Armut family of German immigrants, did the good Reverend Griffith visit that Monday, when he was followed by the all too curious lad David Goldstein, who was dying to know what was in the packages that Reverend Griffith had brought to those folks’ houses. But now it was Tuesday afternoon, and David was therefore expecting the familiar knock on the apartment door. There stood the right reverend, tall, with a dark overcoat from the top of which spilled out a ruffled woolen scarf that carried in its soft crevices ample evidence of the snow that was falling out side, as did the flat top of the reverend’s ascot cap. This week, the peripatetic pastor brought with him several packages under his left arm. Another, which he bore in his right hand, was about the size of a square foot, and it seemed likely to be intended for Mrs. Goldstein. “Though the reverend visits us nearly every Tuesday,” young David was thinking to himself, “he hasn’t brought packages before. Now is my chance to find out what is in all those packages.”

Mrs. Goldstein entered the room from her tiny kitchen, immediately offering the prelate a bowl of soup with hard cheese and some tea.

“Tea would be lovely,” he said. Once she had made certain that tea is all he wanted, she set about the preparation swiftly, getting up to leave just as David was thanking the reverend for not having been cross with him for following him the day before.

“Can I open the package? Is it for us?” David queried.

“David, really,” Mrs. Goldstein said charily, ashamed that David inquired about the package so boldly.

“May, not can, lad. And yes, if your mother lets you, you may open it. But,” the reverend said with some slight hesitation in his voice, “don’t be thinking it’s something that you’ll have a great deal of interest in. It’s really more for your mom.”

David and the pastor nattered about this and that until the return of Mrs. Goldstein, who had to work full-time as a waitress in the local restaurant, the Golden Pump, because her husband a lustrum ago had quit the marriage, when David was a toddler. Her waitressing skills allowed her to display great dexterity by carrying with unusual ease the teapot and two cups on a tray. She spoke first, just as David was tearing the brown paper off of the package, “You needn’t have brought us anything, Reverend.”

“I know,” he said, “But I thought you might be able to use a small package, especially as it’s that time of the year when there are a few extra visitors, a few extra expenses.”

matzoInside the bundle were three boxes of matzo and, wedged between two of them, a crisp ten dollar bill.

“I don’t know what to say,” she said. “That is so very generous. Is it from, …” she paused, “your church?”

“It is from God,” he said. “God has given to us generously. We simply pass on what He has given.” And after a few more minutes of conversation, the reverend slurped down his last bit of tea before saying, “Well, I had better be off now. I’ve got a few more errands to run.”

“Can I come along?” David asked before the Reverend could stand up and draw his overcoat, scarf and hat from the nearby fainting couch.

“May I?” Mrs. Goldstein said, offering the pastor his garments.

“Listen to your mother,” the reverend jokingly quipped to David, before appending, “Yes, of course, thank you, Mrs. G,” for he often shortened people’s names or gave them friendly nicknames. “Better I go alone this time, David,” the reverend added.

Before he could get out the door, Mrs. Goldstein thought it not inappropriate to qualify the occasion. “You know, Reverend, I won’t just start coming to your church because of your generosity.”

“Indeed,” he responded. “That would ruin it anyway. Generosity has to be from the heart. If ever you should decide to come to my church, don’t do it this time of year when I’m bringing you matzo.” He grinned, she in kind, and off he went on another Christmas errand.

“That is a good man,” Mrs. Goldstein said to David.

“I think so, too,” David responded to his mother.

“If all Christians were like him …” Mrs. Goldstein began, never finishing her sentence.

Meanwhile, though it was late afternoon in the small hamlet of the Yard and the old-fashioned looking lights high up on the enormous tree that loomed above the town began to glimmer, as the sun’s chariot had made its final turn toward the end of its daily course, curiosity came upon David, and he recused himself from the living room and the lingering words of his mother, stating quite mendaciously that he was going outside to play.

“To play what?” His mother wanted, as good mothers often do, greater specificity.

“I won’t be long. Can I?”

Permission was granted, with no correction of “can” to “may.” Anyhow, it was nearly time for Mrs. Goldstein’s shift at the Golden Pump. “You stay nearby the apartment. I’ve got to go to work.”

David took off in the direction that he had seen the reverend turn after he had descended the exterior staircase, essentially just a wrought iron fire escape, that adorned the side of the two story edifice, with its final step running parallel to the street in front; beneath their apartment was the Village Store, a tiny grocery and meat shop whose butcher, Mr. Lanius, was also the local special-occasion photographer, for weddings and such, as time permitted.

Darting past the Village Store, young David pursued the reverend, shadowing him, and doing so again chiefly out of prurient interest in his comings and goings. And this time the reverend would surprise David even more than he did on his last promenade, for this time he went to the very edge of Christmas Yard, descending a snow covered hill and crossing a small corner of the plane known as “the floor” and heading under the shade of a raised plateau, known as “the table,” quite near the divan where, you will recall, Mr. Pínqióng worked for a gentle manager in a glass factory. Under the table there was the most unexpected of houses, and David thought he could see as they both approached (though David still lurking in the shadows only) the reverend crying as he bent on one knee, apparently to pray, before approaching.

That house was humbler than the Goldstein’s apartment or the modest house of Armut family; it was large, but completely dilapidated, and oddly there were two young women sitting on the porch, one with a fat belly. They seemed to recognize the reverend, but an older woman came out to chat with the reverend; she received the largest of the three packages that the reverend left.

David thought he heard the older woman express her thanks, though at the great distance he was from the building, he could not be sure. Reverend Griffith spoke in an inaudible tone with the two younger women on the porch, offering them each a small package bound with string and brown paper, each smaller than the one he had brought to the Goldstein home earlier in the day. Then he left, with David at his heels, but at a safe distance, so as not to be noticed. As they neared the snow-covered embankment that they had descended earlier, the reverend suddenly turned about, inviting David, as he had the day before, to join him.

“How did you know I was here?” David said, as if making his clandestine activity of following the pastor into a game of espionage. “I didn’t see you turn and look?”

“Your tracks in the snow of this embankment gave you away. Now, why are you following me this time?”

“So that I can see where you are going.”

“May, not can, my lad,” the rector replied hastily, though conceding to his own richly grammatical mind that “can” could work in this instance.

“What did you give those women? Who are they?”

“David, it would take too long to explain.” The reverend did not want to explain to David, who was but nine years old, that he had gone to a home for unwed mothers. He simply said, “I can say this, I gave them the best gift I could give them. Words of hope, words of healing.”

“Don’t you mean you told them words of hope?”

“I did, but I gave them those words, too; I gave them an old book, too, with some special pages for them to read so they might know something of the Spirit of Christmas. For the Spirit of Christmas is one that welcomes, redeems and invites.”

The reverend had given them, of course, each a Bible, with John’s ninth chapter prominently marked for them, and one or two other passages, too, especially Matthew 1 and Luke 2, for the holiday.

“Did you invite them to your church?”

“Yes, I did indeed,” said the reverend with a smile.

“Will they come?”

“We’ll see.”

David and the reverend walked briskly back to the tiny apartment that was tucked unassumingly just above the Village Store, conspicuously avoiding the storefront of the Golden Pump. Fortunately for David, he returned in time to eat some of the gift of the matzo and a bit of kosher hard cheese for dinner before his mother came home from work that evening. To keep the mitzvah, he waited half an hour after he ate before lighting the two requisite candles of the menorah, but then, per his mother’s instructions, went straight to bed before she should come home. Once in bed, he pondered the events of his promenade, his first trip ever outside the Yard, the strange explanation of the pastor about the women, the contrast of “giving” words and speaking them, and the pastor’s use of the expression, “Spirit of Christmas.”menorah

But those thoughts passed after a few minutes, for the next day would be the twenty-seventh of Kislev, the third day of Hanukkah, the third day of lighting the menorah. His mother would no doubt have a Hanukkah treat for him, perhaps a book, like the women on the porch of the large house had gotten, for the third day of Hanukkah was often a book giving day. So he said a prayer and went to sleep.

Yet trouble would soon be brewing in Christmas Yard. To learn of this trouble, my hope, dear reader is that you will stay curious, curious enough to read next week’s installment of this seasonal blog, “The Christmas Yard.” In the meantime, Happy Hanukkah and advent season leading up to, what I sincerely hope will be for you and yours, a very merry Christmas.