90: Washing Our Hands in Money

90: Washing Our Hands in Money

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Christmas

Washing Our Hands in Money

A partner is someone who makes you more than you are, simply by being by your side.

~Albert Kim

“What were you thinking?” I asked my husband, Larry, in frustration. “You KNOW I invited Ashley. You KNOW they’re separated.”

Larry had run out to the supermarket to get a couple of last-minute items for me. He had bumped into Joe, Ashley’s estranged husband.

“How could I not invite him?” he said. “I was at the checkout and noticed him with little Joey, eating at the counter. They were having chicken nuggets, for crying out loud! Chicken nuggets on Christmas Eve while we’re having a banquet?”

He added, “The kid was crying for his mom. They both looked miserable.”

That sold me. Larry’s big heart sometimes gets us in trouble, but this time he was right.

We got back to work preparing a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Larry “helped” between football games, but at least he had prepared the stuffing in the morning. The prior year I had lost a diamond from my wedding ring when I made the stuffing, so I didn’t want to touch it this year and have the same thing happen to my new ring.

In the afternoon, our son Jim arrived with his wife Cindy, and our granddaughters, Christina and Lindsey, nine and twelve. By then the turkey was baked and resting. Things were under control.

Ashley came with her seven-year-old Annie, bringing a loaf of homemade Italian bread.

Then my mom, who lived with us, took all the kids into her room. The sweet sound of their melodious voices could be heard as Mother, who adored children, taught them Slovakian Christmas songs.

Larry served eggnog as the adults settled into the den by the Christmas tree. Ashley privately confided to me that she and Joe were sharing the children for the holidays. She got Annie and he got Joey. It was a depressing arrangement.

How could I tell her that the husband she had been complaining about was about to ring our bell?

Finally, Larry blurted out: “I ran into Joe and Joey and invited them here for dinner.”

“You didn’t!” she exclaimed. I thought I detected a small measure of hope in her voice.

Joe soon arrived with their five-year-old, Joey, who, upon seeing Ashley, ran into her arms crying, “Mommy!” with such joy it warmed my heart.

Joe sat down across from Ashley. We made small talk and before things got too personal I distracted everyone with my family’s Slovak tradition: “Washing our hands in money.”

Mother and the kids joined us. Christina ran upstairs to get Larry’s substantial dish of change, which he added to daily. It was her annual chore, which she relished.

I rinsed the coins and transferred them into a pretty glass bowl with clean water and before dinner we all “washed our hands in money.”

Everyone always got a kick out of this tradition, which was supposed to bring luck and prosperity in the coming year.

We’d tease the kids, saying all pockets would be frisked to ensure that no change disappeared mysteriously. This good-natured ribbing always produced giggles.

When we had “washed our hands in money,” we took our places at the table.

As we held hands and bowed our heads, Joe said grace. He spoke about the meaning of Christmas, family, friends and the love of God. I was impressed. His prayer was touching. Larry and our granddaughters did their usual good-natured routine of squeezing hands and sneaking silly, furtive glances at each other during the prayer. Well, as long as they prayed I didn’t mind.

The conversation at dinner was spirited and cheerful. I watched Joe and Ashley as they observed the kids’ easygoing interaction with each other and the admiration and respect they showed the adults.

As the kids cleared the dishes for dessert, I noticed notes under each place setting.

“I grew up in an Italian family,” Joe explained “There was not much money for gifts. Our tradition was for the kids to write a note of thanks to the adults. These notes were placed under the plates at Christmas.”

Larry read his note first. It was from Christina. “Poppy, thanks for having Daddy because otherwise I wouldn’t be here. Ha ha.”

My note made me tear up as I read Annie’s childish scrawl, “Thank you for giving us Mommy and Daddy for Christmas.”

All the notes were heartwarming, but the best one came in the mail a few days later. It was from Ashley and read:

Thank you for showing us the true meaning of Christmas. Your warmth and kindness made us appreciate that there’s nothing more important than family. I realized that a temporary setback is no reason to quit. We have decided that we love each other too much to separate.

P.S. Joe landed a great job. Maybe washing hands in money really works.

I wasn’t sure about the last part but who knows?

Ten years and another child later, Joe and Ashley have a solid marriage.

Side note: After dinner as I rinsed the bowl of coins in which we had washed our hands, what should I find but the diamond that had fallen out of my ring a year ago? It had been in Larry’s change dish all year. It was just a material thing but finding it added a certain radiance to an already meaningful Christmas.

~Eva Carter

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