A Change of Heart

A Change of Heart

From Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul

A Change of Heart

As an additional safeguard against self-pity in our home, Mama kept several charity boxes that were marked “For the poor.” We gave regularly. It made us feel rich.

Sam Levenson, Humorist

It was a cold December, at the tail end of the Great Depression, and things were tough. Mum had a hard time raising us kids on her own in our small community of New Westminster, British Columbia. My father had drowned in Pitt Lake five years earlier—I still remember it like it was yesterday. Because Dad had no pension or benefits, there was not much money; we went on relief, now called social assistance. We relied on the Salvation Army to keep us clothed, and although our clothes were secondhand, we thought they were beautiful.

Looking back, I realize what Mum went through sending us kids to school. Every morning she would tuck a new piece of cardboard in our shoes because our soles were worn out. When we got home, Mum would have French toast ready for us. This was bread deep-fried in lard. Constant moving was typical for my family in those days, and it didn’t look like we’d be in our current house much longer. Rent was $25 a month, but Mum couldn’t pay it, and we knew we would be evicted right after Christmas on the first of January.

The holidays were fast approaching, and we were entitled to $25 for Christmas from social services. An inspector came to our house and searched it from top to bottom to be sure we didn’t have any food hidden away. When he didn’t find any, he issued the cheque to Mum. It was four days before Christmas. Mum said that instead of buying food, she was going to use the money to pay our back rent. That way we’d have a roof over our heads for a little while longer. Then she told us that there would be no Christmas gifts.

Unknown to Mum, I had been selling Christmas trees, shovelling snow and doing odd jobs to earn enough money to buy a new pair of boots—boots that weren’t patched; boots with no cardboard in the soles. I knew exactly which boots I wanted. They were ten-inch, Top-Genuine, Pierre Paris boots, and they cost $23.

The big day for getting my boots came on Christmas Eve afternoon. I was very excited as I hurried up the road to catch the bus into town. It was only a half-mile walk, but on the way I noticed a house with Christmas lights and decorations. It was then I realized that at our house, we had no lights, no decorations and no money for Christmas goodies. I also knew we would have no turkey or ham for Christmas dinner. But at least there would be French toast.

As I continued walking, I began to feel bewildered. I was eleven years old, and I was feeling a strange sense of guilt. Here I was going to buy a new pair of boots, while Mum was probably home in tears, thinking of ways to explain why there were no presents. As I arrived at the bus stop, the driver opened the big manual-hinged door. I stood there for what seemed an eternity, until eventually the driver asked, “Son, are you getting on this bus or not?” I finally blurted out, “No thanks, sir. I’ve changed my mind.”

The bus drove off without me, and I stood alone in a daze, feeling as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. My mind was made up, and I realized what I had to do.

Across the street from the bus stop was a big grocery store called the Piggly Wiggly. Into the store I went, brimming with happiness and excitement. I realized that the twenty-five dollars I had worked so hard for went a long way toward groceries. I bought a turkey, ham, oranges and all the Christmas trimmings. I spent every dime of my hard-earned money.

The owner of the grocery store said, “Son, you can’t pack all those groceries and carry them home yourself.” So I asked two boys with carriers on their bicycles to run them the half-mile down to our house. As I walked behind the delivery boys, I whispered to them to quietly unload the groceries on the porch and pile them against the door. Once they had done this, I knocked on the door. I could hardly wait to see my mother’s face! When Mum opened the door, some of the groceries fell inside onto the floor, and she just stood there, dumbfounded. Holding back the tears, I hollered, “Merry Christmas, Mother! There really is a Santa Claus!”

I had a lot of explaining to do as we unpacked all the food and put it away. That day I got enough hugs and kisses from Mum to last two lifetimes. To see my mother’s prayers answered more than made up for the boots I never got. It was a Merry Christmas for us after all!

George Mapson
Burnaby, British Columbia
Submitted by his niece, Diane Pitts

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