Several years ago, my parental agent passed away a couple of weeks before Christmas.
My Mom’s second husband. They’d only been married for four years. The love-struck couple tied the knot when Mom was 73 and Keith was 80. The whole relationship was lovely, and we were all thrilled for them both. My own father had sadly been snatched away more than 20 years earlier, and Mom had been alone all that time.
We hoped and prayed that they’d have at least five happy years. They had four.
Due to circumstances, finances and a million other things, we had to fly home to Pretoria straight after the funeral. As a result, we could not make it back to Cape Town to spend Christmas with Mom. She wasn’t ready to leave their home and the memories of the previous Christmases and fly up to join us either. So, Mom decided she would spend Christmas Day with her sister and family instead.
The rest of our family were either in Cape Town or scattered worldwide.
I wondered bleakly what kind of a Christmas my lovely husband and I were going to have, all alone. The first time ever that our immediate family would be apart. Our respective children were in Cape Town too. Chris’s parents live in the Eastern Cape – we simply didn’t have the finances to drive there either.
Of course, if you are with somebody you love, you are never alone, but Christmas is a time for families and sharing.
One night (I have insomniac tendencies), I struck upon a brilliant idea. Although we were a tad financially challenged, why not buy a few gifts for some poor children instead of buying something for each other. Bounced this off my lovely husband, and he, too, thought the idea wasn’t too shabby.
I had in mind buying a few gifts to go under those Christmas trees that you often see in malls. Where they are given out to needy children before the big day. But it was only a few days before Christmas, and I couldn’t find a single one. The gifts had all long since been distributed.
Undaunted, I went on a quest to find a source of underprivileged children.
After various inquiries and copious text messages, I was beyond chuffed to finally find a sort of orphanage-cum-shelter type place.
Visions of dashing off to go shopping at Christmassy craft markets for interesting stuff, lovingly wrapping them up in brightly coloured paper and depositing them under a huge Christmas tree danced around in my addled brain.
You know what they say – life happens after you make other plans.
Turned out that what the children really needed were pajamas.
Pajamas! Seriously? She had to be kidding. It’s not fun buying pajamas – or receiving them. Those are not Christmas presents. Are they?
27 children lived in that particular home, and they all needed summer pajamas.
I gulped. There was no way we could only buy half the children’s pajamas. We’d have to provide everybody with some good old PJs. The budget would be somewhat stretched, but what the heck! It was for a worthy cause, and besides, I was sure to feel the warm fuzzy glow of Christmas spirit afterward.
Off my long-suffering hubby and I went, armed with a list of different ages—ranging between 4-13. We also had the quantities needed for each age and whether they were for boys or girls. My aim was to buy them all different jammies, so they couldn’t get mixed up. To make them all feel special when they went to bed.
Turned out this dream was nigh impossible. We trekked through the shambolic Christmas-crowded malls; to as many different shops as possible, looking for similar quality yet different night-ware. I hated the thought of one child being disappointed or unhappy because they felt that the other children had nicer stuff.
Eventually… weary and exhausted, our ears ringing with one Christmas jingle too many, we returned home. Vaguely satisfied that we had a pretty good array of pajamas.
No way was I only going to give those kids boring old PJ’s, so I made little packages of sweeties to go in with the jammies and wrapped them all up beautifully with the utmost love and care.
No names had been supplied. So, I got creative, making little individual boy and girl glittery tags with the different ages and attached them to each gift.
Then added in a few extra goodies for the adults. Christmas isn’t only for children.
All correspondence had been via email. We were given the address of the institution and had organized a drop-off time.
December falls in the middle of South African summer. It was already one of those hot, sweaty days when we set off early in the morning – we had about a two-hour drive. Turned out the directions were a little dodgy, and only after much circling and backtracking, we eventually found the place, tucked away and eerily silent.
There was not a child to be seen.
In fact, there was nothing that even remotely looked as though children lived there at all. Not a swing, jungle gym or even a sandpit. Nevertheless, when we rang the security intercom, they were expecting us. The matron, who I had been corresponding with, was away for the day, so we handed over the brightly coloured parcels to another staff member, and I signed a book.
I also handed over an envelope with all the sales tags and slips I’d saved. In case anything needed to be exchanged. (Had the horrors that one of the kids might get a pair of pajamas that didn’t fit them.)
There was, obviously, not a Christmas tree in sight either.
As we drove away, my husband and I looked at each other and giggled. Had we been royally scammed? We truly hoped not. We bounced around various ideas of where the kids could have been and fervently hoped that they were all out having fun somewhere.
The warm fuzzy Christmassy feeling never did materialize that year.
To cap it all, some vagabonds stole the telephone cables in our area, and we were without landlines or internet for the whole Christmas period. Thank goodness for cell phones.
About six weeks later, I did get a one-line email from the matron thanking us for our donation.
We made very sure that Christmas the following year was different.