It was Christmas Eve, and to mark the anniversary of this sacred night before our savior’s birth I was upstairs with my father, helping him do a touch-up paint job on the bedroom walls.
My mother was at church, doing penance for her sins. My father and I were covering up sins of clumsiness with white paint — fingerprints, marks and dings from furniture, whatever.
We all find our own ways to get clean. My Irish mother went to church. My Italian father painted walls.
I was 16 years old, excited to be allowed to help my father with the touch-up paint job, being careful not to drip on the floor.
Suddenly the doorbell rang. I put down my paintbrush to go downstairs and answer it.
A sweet-faced woman stood at our door with a red bucket in her gloved hands. Out by the curb, “Silent Night” was playing from a loudspeaker on the roof of her idling car.
She told me she was collecting for some kind of Christmas charity, and anything I could give would be greatly appreciated.
Then she smiled. There was something desperate and pathetic in that smile. Also, she was shivering.
“Give me a second!” I said, and then I took the stairs two at a time to my room. In my wooden money box I had exactly two dollars in cash, which I grabbed before tearing back down the stairs.
Let me tell you about those two bucks.
I had a weekend job washing dishes at the Douglaston Club restaurant for the minimum wage. The top floor of the club was a rooming house, and one of my unpaid duties was to deliver two buckets of ice to an old lady who lived on the top floor.
She was a nice old lady, and I didn’t mind doing it for her. In the course of the year I must have made thirty ice deliveries to her room, and late in December she dangled my Christmas bonus from her gnarled fingers:
The same two bucks I put in the sweet-faced woman’s bucket. She God blessed me and drove away.
I went back upstairs to continue helping my father with the touch-up work.
“Who was at the door?” he asked.
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