The week before Christmas is always hectic. So much to get ready for, so many little errands, the to do list that doesn’t seem to stop. And, part of me struggles with the short days and the long dark and cold nights. There’s a big part of me that just wants to eat comfort food, ingest lots of sugar, and snuggle under a blanket with a mug of tea.
I recently stopped by the nearby youth prison for my weekly visit with a guy. No one has come to see him in the last four years, so I’ve been asked to come and say hi, be his friend, so he can gain some people skills. Soon, he’ll be out in the world, and will need to be able to interact with the world. Spending some time with me is a start in all that.
Once a week, we play cards. He’s teaching me rummy. I’m not sure of the rules, andI think we have our own version of the game going on. He’s the teacher, a new role for him, and he’s starting to enjoy teaching this old man a few things.
The conversation is a little one sided. He’s not used to company and making small talk. He’s struggling with math at school, so keeping score in the game of rummy is good for him. He’s making something in wood shop. He’s keeping it mysterious, so I think its my Christmas present.
I’m getting him a blanket for Christmas, one that features his favorite football team. He mentioned he’d like that a few weeks ago. But, now he’s claiming he can’t remember what he asked me for Christmas. I wouldn’t tell him today. It’s a surprise, a part of the excitement of the season.
Except for what he’s getting from the prison, and a local fraternal organization, no one else is getting him a present.
He said he liked the Christmas card I sent him this week. He mentioned it several times, but not finding the words he wanted to say.
He showed me the card he was making for his grandma. It was sweet, with a little Christmas tree and the ornaments, Charlie Brown style, made from a sheet of copy paper, colored with crayons, and hand blocked letters. He’s sixteen now, but the card had the look of something from an art class a long time ago. Yet, it was something from his sweet heart. I’m hoping I get one, too. It would go on the frig, and I’d show it off to my friends and family.
“My gin rummy buddy gave that to me,” I’d say. “He’s quite a guy.”
We play a few hands, and discover we have an extra Queen of Clubs. He doesn’t know what to do, so we change the rules and play 53 card, five queen rummy. It really is our own game now. We’re just making it up as we go along.
The hour flies by. We’re busy shuffling, dealing, laying down some runs, and adding up our points. He’s beating me, big time. We don’t talk about much. But, we don’t need to. We’re just hanging out, two guys having a good time, playing some cards.
“Are you having a good time?” I ask.
“Oh, this is great,” he says. “Yeah.”
“I’m really glad you come to see me,” he says. “Otherwise, I’d be all alone.”
The other guys here are busy, and the room where we play can get pretty noisy. But, my buddy is zeroed in on our card game, intent on adding up his points, and beating me.
“I’ll see you at the Christmas party next week,” he says. “And, don’t forget my gift.”
I’ll get one from him, too. But, he’s already given me the best present, the simple gift of an hour, a little conversation, and some hands of cards, and his face breaking out into a little smile.
And, maybe that’s the best gift I could ever have for Christmas.