49. Christmas Connections

49. Christmas Connections

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

Christmas Connections

This time of year means being kind to everyone we meet,
To share a smile with strangers we may pass along the street.

~Betty Black

“The eighteenth bus was delayed a bit, but don’t worry, the police are waving it through.” It was December, dark and raining. I was a very new coordinator of volunteers in a large hospital for children with mental or physical problems. I had some experience with people issues — fleets of buses were another matter entirely. But this was the evening of the Christmas lights tour.

The head of recreation, his suit covered by a bright yellow slicker, consulted his sheet and directed bus after bus — full-size city buses — to different entrances where the drivers whipped them around in impossibly small spaces so that patients could get aboard without getting wet. Besides the transit buses, we had a fleet of wheelchair buses — they had arrived earlier because they took longer to load.

Most of the drivers were dressed as Santa Claus; some had brought their wives along dressed as Mrs. Claus, carrying baskets of candy. As we loaded patients, bright-eyed and eager, I noticed that the drivers were all mature men. When I asked about that they said, “You need a lot of seniority to get this volunteer spot.”

When every last person was on board and settled down we were waved on our way. The lead bus bore a large sign with the name of the hospital and “Christmas Lights Tour” on it. I had wondered, with so many buses, if we might get separated at traffic lights. No worries! At every traffic light in this busy urban area police were stationed. Our entire convoy was waved through together.

I was on a bus with young boys, and having cops wave them through red lights was the highlight of their evening. Never had they imagined a privilege as great as that. Life could get no better. They eagerly looked forward at each intersection, hoping the light would be red, cheering as the cop on duty waved us through.

When we came to the brightly decorated houses, we saw that the owners had been alerted. Street after street had organized for the evening. Our patients might have been rock stars based on the way the groups of homeowners cheered our arrival. Neighbours, family and friends had been roped in to help bring every young person hot chocolate, nuts, and candy.

Smiles and hugs were the currency of the evening. We arrived at one street after another to see people smiling and waving. Once in a while I spotted someone a little uncertain about greeting young people with handicaps. It took only a little encouragement to bring them onto the bus, where they connected and made friends.

We left to more vigorous waving and to wider smiles, to mums and dads and grandpas holding up their little ones to wave or knock on bus windows to say goodbye up close and personal. Every barrier had been broken, smashed by the Christmas connection.

On our return we sang carols on the bus. We had all learned something that night. The boys counted their loot as if it were Halloween. Back at the hospital we collected candy wrappers and hot drink cups and told the lads to make sure to say “thank you” to the driver.

When we got back the drivers spun the great buses into place before the hospital entrances as if they were driving toy cars. The boys appreciated their skill. Their “Wow! Cool! Can you do that again?” was an even better reward than the “thank you.”

It was part of my job to send letters of thanks to all the drivers, police, and homeowners. The transit dispatcher phoned me back two days before Christmas. “I thought I’d let you know. All the drivers have signed up to volunteer for this shift again next year.”

~Valerie Fletcher Adolph

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