A Christmas Lesson…

December 12, 2014

Several years ago I learned a very valuable lesson on Christmas Eve

It is something that I haven’t ever (ever) forgotten

I have carried that one single lesson for a lot of years

I hope you aren’t too busy to read this today, because you might learn something

Several years ago before 9/11 and Iraq and Afghanistan

(By the Way, that’s how we military folks gage and describe time)

I was a Marine stationed with the Marine Corps Reserve Force Reconnaissance Unit in my adopted hometown of Mobile, Alabama

It was a great time

But like I mentioned earlier, we weren’t involved in a “War” at the time

I’m sorry; we don’t use the term “war” anymore

I should have said “a disagreement of cultural differences that involves blowing stuff up”

So other than the occasional deployment and military training there wasn’t a “real” mission for the Marines stationed there to focus on.

And I will tell you this, when Marines “don’t” have a mission to focus on…..

Something to be passionate about or to “own”….then you have trouble on your hands

Whoever said “idle hands are the devils workshop” must have been a Marine

So one afternoon in September we received a call from “Toys for Tots”

To tell you the truth, the entire time I was in the Marines up to that time, I wasn’t aware “we” did that

So we all gathered around and we came up with a plan for “our” Toys for Tots campaign

Now for those of you that may be reading this that are, Doctors, Lawyers and or educated Indian chiefs with advanced degrees, let me simply state this fact.

The smartest, most inventive, most creative people I have ever met in my entire life

Have been enlisted Marines and Sailors

There is nothing they can’t do, nothing they can’t plan and nothing they can’t accomplish

Period, end of discussion

I state the above “fact” because my Marines decided to set a goal for that years Toy’s for Tots campaign that was lofty to say the very least.

They wanted to break every Toys for Tots record for collecting and distributing toys for a city the size of Mobile, Alabama in the nation.

“Yes”, I said every record “in the nation….”

One team one fight, I was all in, but when I asked about the rather “high bar” they had set particularly since not a single one of us had ever done Toys for Tots before, a young Lance Corporal that worked in the Para Loft and packed parachutes for a living said this…

“Hey we don’t have anything to fight now, so why don’t we fight hopelessness”

That my friends, is a Marine; “Hey we don’t have a fight, so Let’s start one”

Those guys poured their hearts and souls into this campaign.

I cannot begin to tell you all the crazy things I approved

We got a famous WWE wrestler to come and sign autographs for people that brought a new unwrapped toy to the signing event. The people were lined up for twelve hours before the event even started and we filled the back of six large (really) large military trucks with new toys.

We parachuted into a professional football game, rappelled into a semi-professional hockey team’s game and parachuted into an inaugural college bowl game with the game ball, all for a “donation” to our Toys for Tots campaign of course.

Do you remember the huge WWE Wrestler King Kong Bundy?

You know the guy with the tattooed head that weighed about 25 pounds lighter than a new Buick Riviera and sweated a lot?

Well my guys talked me into wrestling “him” for a donation from the WWE

(I still think they were trying to get me killed)

And King Kong Bundy probably would have killed me if I hadn’t of bitten his leg

(Seriously, I think they were trying to get me killed)

But that’s another story for another time

Those Marines did some amazing things for children that Christmas

Not only did they break the record, they shattered it

The Marines in Mobile Alabama collected more toys for the Toys for Tots campaign that year than any city four times its size and population.

This was accomplished despite growing resentment from my Marine boss in New Orleans Col. Jim “I want to be a General” Stewart who constantly questioned and berated everything my Marines accomplished in this campaign.

It wasn’t until mid-December that I finally “got it”

You see Col. Jim “I want to be a General” Stewart was stationed in New Orleans at Marine Forces Reserve Headquarters, meaning “they” had to participate in the Toys for Tots program too and “he” was concerned that the Marines in Mobile Alabama would, as he stated later, “Make him look bad”

Maybe he should have worked harder, because although he had twenty more times the manpower, my Marines whipped his ass in number of toys collected and the number of people who received the toys we collected.

But this story isn’t about “My” Marines or that jackass Col. Jim “I want to be a General” Stewart, it’s about a lesson I learned that Christmas

One of the most valuable lessons I have ever learned, anywhere at anytime

I was in Stockton Alabama one afternoon in early December to receive a monetary donation from a millionaire for Toys for Tots that owned a large lumber yard and custom lumber trailer flooring plant.

While I was waiting for him to show up, I wandered around the plant operation.

To my surprise nearly all the workers there were staffed with people that were bused in everyday from a nearby Alabama State Penitentiary and then subsequently bused back to the Penitentiary in the evening.

The prisoners were working there on the premise that they were to “learn a trade” because they were to be released sometime within ninety days and although the state only paid then a dollar an hour for their labor at the “plant”, they could hopefully parley this into a meaningful occupation once they were released.

These are my kind of people and I talked with nearly everyone of them

And that was when the idea “hit” me

We had plenty of Toys and I made the decision then and there that we needed to distribute some of the toys to the children of the prisoners.

Now before you get your dander all up, let me tell you my rationale

Number one…Whatever offense those men committed is between them and the State of Alabama, their children didn’t have a damn thing to do with it, and I don’t like to see a child go without

Number Two…”IF” you are a real Christian then you believe in redemption

So before the plant owner arrived I went back around and talked to all the prisoners working at the lumber yard and at the plant to get their “Christmas List” for their children, to include addresses and points of contact for delivery.

One Prisoner in particular named “Troy” told me that “He was supposed to be home (in Mobile) on the 23rd of December and that he would be waiting for me, if I could deliver the presents”

He didn’t have a phone or anyway to get in touch with him, other than a home address

He was going home to his wife and three little girls after having served his sentence for drug possession and distribution.

I thought quickly about dates and times for delivery and I said

“I will be there on the afternoon of the 24th around 1500 or three o’clock, I will see you then”

He hugged me with tears in his eyes

He hugged me like somebody who is thankful hugs you

I left with my notes, addresses and points of contact for Toy distribution and a hefty donation for toys and feeling good about our “mission”

This really was a war against hopelessness

Light against the darkness

Marines are occasionally “over dramatic” but we are passionate about a good fight

This was going to be fun

Now before my Marines and I began our rather extensive Toy distribution it’s important to note this one important logistical point

Col. Jim “I want to be a General” Stewart in an effort to “slow our roll” as one Sergeant so eloquently and accurately stated prevented my Marines and I from using our military vehicles from delivering the toys we collected.

Yeah, you read that correctly

So the Marines and I delivered the lion’s share of the toys we collected in our own personal vehicles to various charities around the city and counties and to individual locations.

It was exhausting for all of us to say the very least

Well here it was December 24th, Christmas Eve and would you believe it

The temperatures were falling fast and it was sleeting and snowing in Mobile Alabama

That happens about as often as you see Haley’s Comet in South Alabama

But it was coming down and the streets and side roads were a mess

We had all split up our deliveries that day and had several trips back and forth to make all day with toys to various locations etc. It was going to be an extremely long day for all of us.

I had already made four trips with other Marines with all of us using our personal vehicles to the Catholic Charities locations for the distribution of the Toys that they needed for Christmas.

And as a side note, I will never (ever) forget Sister Margret at Mobile’s Catholic Charities, if she isn’t a Saint, then they need to empty heaven and start over.

We had all made numerous trips that day in really bad weather and had put in countless (countless) hours for a month leading up to this day, so I say all of that to say this:

I was exhausted

Everything was done, mission accomplished

But I had one more delivery to make

So I loaded up the back of my brown pickup truck with presents placed in black garbage bags, and my truck was full.

It was sleeting even harder now as I looked at my watch, it said it was 1600 or four o’clock. Didn’t I tell Troy I would be there “around 1500 or three o’clock?”

I couldn’t remember

This was the coldest day ever recorded in Mobile Alabama in over a hundred years

I was tired

I “thought” I knew where I was going, but I was lost, driving in circles again and again

I drove around looking for the address for forty five minutes and the sun was going down and it was nearly five o’clock and I remember waiting at a stop sign clearly thinking this thought….

“I’m tired it’s been a long day and I have been driving around in circles, I will deliver these toys later, I don’t even know if Troy got to come home or not, he probably doesn’t even remember it”

I hate to admit this, but it’s true

I was going to drive home

It was then I saw a Mobile Police officer drive up to the stop sign opposite of me

I got out of my truck and waved at him

He pulled around next to me

I asked him about the address I had for Troy

It was a hundred yards away; I had driven around it literally all afternoon

I thanked one of Mobile’s Finest for the directions and drove thru the sleet and snow to the address in “hopes” that Troy was there and that he would remember me

It was nearly five thirty in the evening

Troy lived in a housing project in Prichard Alabama

It’s a not a nice place

Before I pulled up to the address I saw Troy waiting for me outside on the sidewalk near his house

He was wearing a hooded University of Alabama sweatshirt and it was covered in ice

In fact, Troy was coated in ice and snow from his head to his well worn out tennis shoes

Shivering, waiting on the sidewalk, for me, for hours

I pulled my truck to the curb and Troy met me with a hug before I was barley out of my vehicle and I will never forget what he said….

“I knew you would be here”

I felt the ice breaking free from his clothes as I hugged him

I told him I got lost, I apologized for being late; I didn’t know what else to say because I was ashamed of myself for what I thought earlier.

None of that mattered to Troy

He said….

“If it wasn’t for you my babies wouldn’t have a Christmas, I would have waited all night for you, I knew you would be here.”

His wife came outside to hug me; she had tears in her eyes

She thanked me over and over again

I didn’t bring the presents in, because I think it’s important to preserve an adult’s pride

It’s about the parents and the children and Christmas

It’s Not about me, Toys for Tots or the Marine Corps

So when the last bag full of toys was hauled from the back of my truck Troy hugged me once again and with tears of joy frozen to his coal black face he said

“I will never forget this day for as long as I live and I will never forget you”

With that I left to drive back in the sleet and the snow to my home in Mobile

But I was ashamed of myself

I vowed to never (ever) forget that day

To think that I actually thought “I am too tired”

“I’m too busy”

“It probably doesn’t matter”

To think that I was going to “drive away”

I couldn’t have lived with myself if I knew, what I knew sometime later

Troy waited for me in the ice, sleet and snow

His words still ring in my ears

“I knew you would be here”

I share this story with you because I don’t want you to be “Too Busy” for Christmas

“Too Tired” to do something for someone else

“Too Preoccupied” to know what’s important during this time of the year

Don’t ever think, like I did for a moment at the stop sign

“That it probably doesn’t matter what I do or don’t do”

It all matters my friends

It ALL matters

Troy told me….

“I will never forget this day for as long as I live and I will never forget you”

I won’t forget it either and I learned a lesson that day that I will never forget

God Bless You All and Merry Christmas


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One Response to A Christmas Lesson…

  1. Dale on December 15, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    Great story and reminder, thanks

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