My mother was hospitalized for what seemed like weeks.  The old man was working two jobs to make ends meet.  A full time babysitter moved into the house and cared for the kids.  It was sometime during the mid to late 1960s.  My memory isn’t precise, after all.  As the old joke says, “I was young then”.  Weeks passed and it may have been months.  We lived in a large and drafty house my folks bought shortly after my sister’s birth.  On cold mornings I would race my brother to the laundry room where we would warm our feet by the dryer vent.

Charlie gestured to the shelves and told the old man to take what he needed

Mom was finally home by Christmas and my faded memory of the holiday blends with others from the era.  There were toy robots, Tonka trucks and a walking doll for my sister.  This day almost never happened.

Dad was exhausted and mom wasn’t much better.  When he tried making breakfast the food was often a mystery.  You could see he was trying and he was as fried as what we were eating.

None of these memories were top of mind until a conversation with my father when I was a young man.  In a previous post I mentioned a family trip to Florida after my 12th birthday.  We ended up stranded somewhere below the Mason-Dixon Line.  The family’s new Dodge Charger died along a lonely, cold and rainy road.  A later diagnosis identified bad gasoline.  Sold by a service station in my hometown before we even left for Christmas vacation.

Despite a near tragedy in Southern Virginia my dad continued buying gas at the same station.  His loyalty was solid until the day he died.  He would get repairs done in the garage behind the pumps.  He would shop in the small store, where there were bicycles, tools and toys.  My first two-wheeler came from the store.  Candy apple red and I could balance on it from the moment I climbed on the seat.  Downhill I rode and across Mrs. Doyle’s front lawn.  She appeared impressed.

Sometime in the late 1980s I was home at Christmas and I asked my dad why he kept doing business with Mr. Botens after our rough trip to Disneyworld.  My father’s answer stays with me 30 years later 45 years after the ill-fated trip.

“When you kids were young, your mother was in the hospital and we had no money,” he replied.  “Just before Christmas I was paying for gas when Charlie asked after her.  Then I told him we weren’t going to have a Christmas.”

Minutes before the event, Judy handed me a gift.  A Bible.  With pictures!

There are advantages lost to people who’ve never experienced the trust of living in a small town.  Charlie gestured to the shelves and told the old man to take what he needed.  “You can pay for it when you get back on your feet,” Mr. Botens said as he smiled.

There were no credit slips.  No signatures and no suggestion to hold anything in hock.  It was a Christmas gift of immense proportion.

Aside from the lesson learned about good faith and loyalty there was another plus.  Judy, our babysitter, was married the following October.  My sister, brother and I were in the wedding.  My role was the ring bearer.  Minutes before the event, Judy handed me a gift.  A Bible.  With pictures!

At home I had questions about the angry man with the stone tablets.  About the large boat and the dove in the sky.  And about the man with outstretched arms speaking from a mount.  Mom and my grandmothers had the answers.  How’s that for a belated gift?

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