30. Passing Storm

30. Passing Storm

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

Passing Storm

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.

~G.K. Chesterton

“Hello,” I said into my phone as I hurriedly swallowed my cereal.

“Mrs. Grumbein, this is the Captain. Would it be convenient if we deliver today about 1 p.m.?”

“Yes, that would be fine.” Both apprehension and excitement flooded my heart as I hung up the phone. Someone had given our name and phone number to a marine squadron, and they were bringing us Christmas presents. I made sure the house was as spotless as could be with four children living in it.

As one o’clock drew near, I perched myself on the edge of the couch. Each time I heard a car I jumped up to see if they were here. Each time it wasn’t them I was relieved yet disappointed.

Finally a huge SUV pulled into the driveway, and four marines in dress blue uniforms got out. One of them glanced at the inoperable station wagon sitting by our driveway. I was even more embarrassed, but so grateful too. I greeted them with a smile, wondering if they could hear my heart pounding.

“Mrs. Grumbein, we’re here on behalf of a squadron on base. The marines have collected toys for families who might be having a difficult time this holiday season.”

“Please come in.” Two came in and two went back to the SUV They made several trips and soon my living room was full of boxes and bags.

“We hope you have a blessed Christmas, Ma’am,” the oldest marine said.

I tried to say “Thank you,” but my throat suddenly closed up and tears welled up in my eyes.

He looked uncomfortably at the floor, hat in hand, and turned toward the door.

“Thank you,” I managed to squeak, when they were halfway down the porch steps.

“Yes, Ma’am,” he said, putting on his hat and smiling at me.

“What squadron are you with, so I can send a thank-you card?”

“We can’t tell you that, Ma’am. No thanks necessary.”

I watched through the window as they drove away, wondering what they thought of me.

I had always donated, not received. We weren’t always like this. My husband had been laid off this year, and we were struggling. I’d wanted to say this to those marines, but the words wouldn’t come out. I felt ashamed.

I quickly wrapped the gifts so I’d be finished before the school-aged children came home. I stashed them in closets and under beds as quickly as I could.

On Christmas morning I felt a twinge of guilt as our four children tore open the gifts with gusto, thinking they were from us.

My nine-year-old son opened a game box and taped inside the lid was an envelope.

“What’s this, Mom?” He handed it to me.

I opened it and read aloud, “May the joy of Christmas be with you all the year through.” All around the card were the signatures of all the men and women in the squadron, except instead of their real names, they’d signed nicknames, like Pug, Buck and Ace. They had done this kindness for us and we would never even know who these men and women were, or who had given them our name. At the bottom of the card, written in small, succinct letters, it said, “Although the sea gets rough, no storm lasts forever.”

All those thousands of emotions came flooding back.

I was suddenly ashamed of being ashamed.

I finally understood.

~Sharon Palmerton Grumbein

More stories from our partners