Christmas is coming
The geese are getting fat
Please put a penny
In the old man’s hat.
If you haven’t got a penny,
A ha’penny will do,
If you haven’t got a ha’penny,
Then God bless you.
When I first moved to Chicago, each morning at my bus stop a man with a big smile would greet me with a compliment and a request: “Good morning, gorgeous. Can you spare a quarter for your biggest fan?” But, of course. I kept change in my coat pocket for my charmer and for several other homeless people that would ask for quarters as I went about my day. Oddly enough, as I handed out change, I don’t ever remember wondering why people were living out of shopping carts and sleeping under viaducts. They were just a part of the Chicago landscape.
Fast forward a million years. Every morning and afternoon my teen and I travel through Chicago neighborhoods picking up our wagging day campers. The neighborhoods all face different socioeconomic challenges from potholes to high property taxes, but one common denominator is that there are homeless people on most corners asking for money. Alongside them are all their worldly belongings stuffed into overflowing garbage bags or a grocery cart. When possible, I still give change or a dollar (these days out the car window) to the asking hand, but the difference between the old days and now is that I wonder why the wellbeing of so many people is solely dependent on the length of a traffic light and the goodwill of strangers. I wonder if they want help and if help is available to them. Most of the homeless people we encounter are not well mentally or physically. I’m told Chicago lags far behind other cities that have services in place to help their homeless population compassionately and creatively, saving the city money in the long run. I hope these programs become a part of Chicago’s future.
But in the meantime, Christmas is coming and my teen and I wanted to do something special for the homeless person we’ve nicknamed Chief because he wears a homemade Indian headdress. We often pass Chief on our way to pick up pups and admire his headdress and how hard he works at greeting cars with a big smile and a request for money before the light turns green. Chief always makes you feel like you’ve made his day when you pass him a dollar through your car window. So we adopted him for Christmas.
Chief doesn’t know he has been adopted. It is a surprise. We want to add to his Christmas cheer with a few gifts that are practical, fun, and picked out just for him. Tonight we wrapped up a package that includes a warm but fun hat (the headdress offers the clue that he likes to wear things on his head), some flannel pajama bottoms, Christmas socks (not warm but festive), 4 small brightly colored LCD flashlights, a paddle ball to play with as he waits for the light to change, gift cards to Dunkin‘ Donuts and CVS, homemade Christmas goodies, a bit of Christmas cash, and a bottle of champagne with two wine glasses. OK, maybe I am aiding and abetting an alcoholic or undermining Chief’s decision not to drink. But think about it. Now he doesn’t have to spend his Christmas cash on booze! Our gift of champagne solves the problem so many people worry about when they hand over that hard-earned dollar to a homeless person: “Is he just spending that money on liquor?” Nope. Not Chief. He is toasting the New Year with a glass of our gifted bubbly!
After assembling all the gifts, it was time to consider how to wrap them both festively and practically. After some thought, we put all the gifts in a tripled up grocery bag and then wrapped the bag leaving the handles accessible. I think the end result is pretty darn festive. You can agree with me by leaving a “well done” comment!
The traffic, length of the traffic light, and through-the-window hand-off makes giving Chief his gift messier than your usual “Merry Christmas, here is your present,” big hug gift exchange. And who knows if he will even be at his usual street corner. Maybe he took all his street corner cash and headed to Florida for the holidays. He might be throwing back shots of tequila at the pool side bar, for all I know. I’ve heard rumors that this happens. No worries. I’ll let you know the final outcome of the gift exchange so you aren’t left wondering.
What you won’t have to wonder about is who is receiving so much more than they are giving. And for the homeless people who we can’t make Christmas merrier for, we will keep noticing you, if not with a dollar, then with a smile. God bless you.
Merry Christmas and I’ll be back to wish you a Happy New Year!
Odd Loves Company!
December 23, 2015. Chief was not at his usual corner today. We suspect the rain kept him tucked under the viaduct he seems to call home. We noticed a small decorate tree and a holy cross carefully placed, along the concrete wall. Bittersweet. We will drive by again tomorrow (Thursday) and each day thereafter if we need to. We are very persistent givers! I’ll keep you posted.
December 24, 2015: Gift given and received! Will we do it again? Yes. We. Will.