By Rosalie Tirella
My best Christmas gift this year, better than the AutoZone and Dunkin Donuts gift cards, meaning as much to me as my kind neighbors’ Christmas cards and lovely lemon-scented candle: the set up of my “dining room” centerpiece – the old farmer’s kitchen table, white tiles still in tact, its big wooden legs nick-less despite all my moves through the years … finally put together. Now I can eat my meals at my table instead of in bed or by the coffee table or standing before the kitchen counter.
Yesterday, a good man put my farmers table together. For my Christmas Eve. I didn’t know Spanish, he didn’t know English, so we couldn’t make small talk. Still, we communicated. We kept smiling, tentatively, at each other, me gesturing with my hands and saying: IT’S OK. It’s OK. PLEASE! He wavering for a few minutes – should he go up to this old white lady’s apartment to help her? The old broad in candy striped shorts babbling away stupidly, her two silly dogs running circles around her, tangling their leashes around her? But he did.
I said to this stranger, my right hand over my heart: THANK YOU! The dogs are good! Good! My house ok!
The American story: Two strangers from different parts of the world taking a chance on each other.
So …up we flew on my building’s elevator! Oh, hear the angels’ voices! Down the corridor we ran on the Night Christ was born! Two poor people following the star of light … my dogs, Jett and Lilac, leading the way, their spirits so bright!
We entered my cozy apartment. The young man went to work putting the big wooden legs into my old farmers table. A 10- minute job. The table a gift from a friend 30 years ago, Dianne, a woman who gifted me my first furniture for an early apartment, for the early Christmases. Most of her stuff has left me, fallen to the wayside of time – except this grand old farmers table, so on-trend decades ago, and my bed’s simple but lovely headboard. This Christmas I remember “Di” with love and gratitude!
Back in my home, the young man struggled with my “toy wrench,” and the old table’s legs wobbled … My dogs, sitting politely with me a few feet away, wanting to run up to the guy to sniff away. Jett growling very very low. Me shushing Jett. BE NICE, JETT!! BE NICE!
The young fellow, short and stocky, a dark brown, working in the restaurant kitchen week days, walking to work even during the coldest days … wearing a heavy sweatshirt on top of another sweatshirt … living in the rougher part of town. Me, knowing the American story having lived it, but spending last Christmas in my car, homeless, struggling, too. I wanted to say to him: My friend, it will work out! Let your family and friends help you! Make sure your future children ace their classes in public school … They’ll be the next generation of teachers and doctors. Trust me! This is America! The best Christmas gift!
But I couldn’t speak his language. So I said, loudly and stupidly, over and over again: THANK YOU! THANK YOU! BEAUTIFUL JOB!, my right hand touching my heart. He smiled shyly. Once in a while he’d glance up from working on my old table, turned upside down on the floor, to glance at my big white book case, directly behind him – filled with books and more books. Then his eyes would wander to the stack of newspapers, my newspapers, CECELIA, written and edited by the granddaughter of illiterate Polish and Italian immigrants.
America on Christmas Eve.
When he was leaving my apartment, gesturing to the stairs, wanting to skip the elevator, I gave him a small envelope with a tip$ inside, not much money at all. Then I went back to my Christmas stash and gave him a new pair of winter gloves, still attached together with their tag. I loved them. They looked so cheerful with their snowflake pattern.