Christmas Eve Conversations

Dear Liza,

Yesterday was Christmas Eve. Auntie Bridgett was working at the art gallery and I was getting the house cleaned up for Christmas Day. At about 3:00, I walked to “Straight out of New York” to pick up our traditional Christmas Eve pizza. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much of a selection.

I texted Auntie Bridgett about the situation. Maybe “Pizzacato”, the pizza place closer to the gallery, could do better. Their website said they were open Christmas Eve until 4:00. I let Grandpa Nelson what I was doing and walked as quickly as I could up to Burnside Street to check it out.

I saw Johnny, a very pleasant homeless fellow, outside Whole Foods with his cart and “Merry Christmas” sign. I said I was off to buy pizza, and could I buy him a slice or two?

“Honey, they’re closed,” he said. “They haven’t been open all day. I was gonna get my dinner there, too.” He seemed worried. “Where’re you gonna get your dinner?”

“Oh, we’ll figure something out, I guess,” I assured him. “You?”

“I’ll head to the Pearl. There’s a nice Chinese place there.” He smiled and we wished each other Merry Christmas, and I headed to the gallery to talk with Auntie Bridgett.

“You know,” she said, “We have a lot of food at the house. There’s sausage and cheese and crackers, fruit and veggies and fruitcake. We can make a buffet!”She was right, and that was what we decided to do.

Meanwhile, it was an hour before the gallery closed. I looked at the art, she tidied and organized. At about quarter to five, she noticed a box of cookies someone had given to the gallery to share, but no one had eaten any. “They’re going to go stale,” she said. “We ought to toss them out.”

But with so many people without even a proper supper, that felt wrong. I took the box and went looking to offer Johnny cookies to have after his Chinese dinner, but I couldn’t find him. I figured he had already caught the bus to the Pearl.

Unwilling to leave without giving the cookies to someone, I walked to the Laurelhurst Theater where a lady named Jennifer makes her camp. She has all sorts of health problems but refuses to leave the outdoor life. I offered her the cookies and we chatted. She showed me her new down sleeping bag, donated by a generous person. She was having a merry Christmas, she said.

Heading back to the gallery, I spotted Johnny. I told him about the cookies and Jennifer. He smiled sadly, knowing her story better than I did. Then his face lit up. “Hey, I was thinking of you,” he said, and held up a bag from Whole Foods. “I went in to the market to get a cup of coffee and the folks there gave me this for Christmas.” I opened the bag. It was full of unopened packages of sausage, cheese, and bread. “I thought about you not having your pizza, and I’ve got my dinner already. Would you like this?”

I was stunned at his kindness. This fellow who sleeps in the cold by his shopping cart had come into extra food and worried that I wouldn’t have a dinner. He really was the good soul I thought he was.

I smiled. “No, thanks, we got it figured out. Maybe you could share with Jennifer?”

He shook his head. “She don’t eat cheese or meat,” he said. “I’ve offered her lots, but she just eats sweets, her cigarettes, and her wine.” We were both sad, thinking of Jennifer, sick and stubborn. He reached behind him and put the bag of food on a small sidewalk table, part of the Covid conscious outside dining area of a darkened restaurant. “I’m going to leave this here. The fellas will come by later. They’ll find it.” I figured he meant other homeless folks, and asked, “How will they find it?”

“They’re pretty thorough,” he grinned. “Well, thanks again for the offer,” I said. “Have a Merry Christmas.”

“You too,” he said.

And we parted company, with me wondering at the sweet strangeness of it. Each of us was trying to take care of someone else, and were richer because of it.

It felt very Good King Wenceslas. And that’s not a bad feeling.


Grandma Judy

Author: Judy

I am a new transplant to Portland from Salinas, a small city in Central California. This is a blog about my new city.

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