Monday, December 24, 2007

Dear Charlie:

You know how crises tend to bring out a person's true character?

Yeah. While I hope I passed that little test these last two weeks -- one spent without power and the other spent making up for all that time both at work and at home without the money to replace all the food that spoiled or that I fixed and gave away so it wouldn't spoil (and so someone, at least, would enjoy it) -- I know a few people who didn't. One in particular made me despair of the entire human race.

When her power went out, her rich and influential friends (her daughter used to date their son) invited her whole family to come stay in their multi-million-dollar, 6000-square-foot mansion until their power came back on. Or longer, if need be.

Instead of being incredibly grateful, she complained all week about the food. And about how everyone at work was being mean to her. And about how her daughters' Christmas presents had finally arrived, but no one was at their house to accept them, so she had to swing by the post office on the way to the rich friends' house and pick them up.

In a way, it was kind of amusing to listen to her gripe about her woes. On the other, it just made me sad that she didn't realize she had friends willing to put up with her long enough to offer her a place to stay. In, you know, a mansion. *snerk*

At any rate, I told you this story to tell you another. This one is about my beloved sister, who you all probably know. I talk about her all the time, because she's just that kind of person. She's just worth talking about.

So, I drove down to Mom's Saturday afternoon to help her cook for our Sunday Christmas dinner. My brother came with all his kids. So did my sister. We'd already agreed to just buy for the kids, but Sis and I both bought Mom a little something, too. I mean, it's her house that we're all landing on, you know.

Usually, Sis and Mom and I stay in the kitchen and talk the whole time while the guys sit in the living room to get away from our ceaseless nattering. This time, Sis and I didn't really get to talk much before dinner was served, and there were so many kids that there wasn't really room for all the adults to sit at the table. Mom and Joely stayed with them, bless their indulgent parental hearts, while I escaped into the living room with the guys to watch some football and eat in relative peace.

By the time the dishes were all up, everyone with kids was ready to leave, so Sis and I still didn't really get to talk. I missed that, but I figured we'd make it up some time during the week.

On the way home, I swung by Dad's to wish him a merry Christmas. It was all sorts of fun because he got me to watching Spiderman 2, which I'd watched so long ago that it was like watching for the first time again. Good times.

Anyway, by the time I got home, I'd used 3/4 of a tank of gas and had no money with which to replace it. Oh, I had $19 on my bank card, which I can't use if the balance is under $20, and I had $14 on my BioLife card (from donating plasma), but I was saving that to buy a few last minute groceries for baking my Christmas presents for work. I could probably have written a "bad" check, but I'm already so far in the hole that a few extra $25 overdraft charges would put me in the hole even after being paid Friday.

Not a good place to be.

So, when Sis called me up this morning to say that Dad was on his way to her house for a little Christmas get-together and did I want to come along, I politely declined. I wanted to go. I hadn't been able to talk to her at all the day before, and I missed that. But I couldn't afford it. I wasn't even sure I could get to her house on a quarter-tank of gas.

She said that if I could get there, they could get me home.


Keep in mind that my beloved sister has three kids of her own and isn't in the peachiest financial situation ever right now. Factor in that she's just bought Christmas for those three kids and for her husband and for my brother's four kids. And for Mom. And for Dad.

So, I said thank you but no, I couldn't do that. I wasn't sure I could get there anyway, so thank you for the incredibly generous offer but not on your life.

Her husband -- whom I'm guilty of calling That Man because he can be an incredible asshole -- blue-tooths the phone call and says, "Get in the car and come up here and we'll take care of the rest." I said thank you but no again. He threatened to drive all the way here to give me to money to drive over there. To be honest, he's just the kind of stubborn that might actually do that, so I paled a little. No, I really couldn't do that...and he said they were already in the car.

Needless to say, I finally agreed. I put $13 of my $14 plasma dollars into the car and headed that way. I'm so glad I did. I got to hear my 8-year-old niece read the Christmas story from the Bible. I was so impressed. I mean, this is the old King James version with the hard words and tricky grammar, and she did exceedingly well.

I was also amused to learn that I still knew it by heart from all the Christmas programs as a kid. It's good to know.

Of course, I wasn't terribly thrilled with the inquisition from my dad about why I'm not published and rolling in the dough by now, but that's another story and...quite frankly...something I don't care to relive. I'd have rather had the hot poker and the rack.

At any rate, the girls then clamoured to open presents -- the crappy ones from Mom and Dad, not the cool ones from Santa, of course; those are for Christmas day -- and so I was surprised when I had a Christmas card to open. I was even more surprised when a wad of cash fell out of it to go with the heartfelt words both inside and out.

My sister, who has to make every single penny stretch to impossible lengths, had given me probably the last of her cash so I'd not only have enough gas to get home, but enough to last the rest of the week until I get paid. My sister.

Long story short -- I know, too late -- I guess crises don't only point out a person's bad character. Sometimes, once in a great, great while, it proves that there are good people out there, too.

I like to think that for every hundred or so bad people who would complain about the food in a mansion, there's at least one person like my beloved sister. One who makes your last few dollars worth a million. One who makes the three hour round-trip worth it a million times over. One who tries to help explain to a non-writer why publishing isn't like construction work, where "hours worked" equals "hours paid".

One who makes even an old Grinch like me smile.

So thank you, beloved Sis, for arm-breaking me into coming to see you out of the kindness of your giant, super-economy-sized heart, and for the best spaghetti I've ever eaten, and for a Coke to see me home wide-awake, and for the gas money to get back safely. *grin* And thank That Man again for me, wouldja?


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