The Christmas Gift



There was a glitter of light from new chandeliers in the grand salon where groups of formally attired people were beginning to assemble for the most elegant and socially elite party of the year. A butler came into the room to tell Richard Billingly that someone was at the front door, he received an impatient nod and went back to tell the visitor to have a chair in the anteroom and wait. It was an hour later when the host was going into the library with friends that he noticed the man was still there. He excused himself briefly saying he had a bit of business to conclude. Stepping into his private office with the man he drew some papers and a checkbook from his desk drawer.

"Yes, that new lighting in the library worked out very well, I am completely satisfied, and I think we can finish it up right now. I have your contract here, let me mark it paid and give you a check for the amount."

He handed the check to Giuseppe Renato, holding it out archly with two fingers, adding that he was pleased the work had been done on time, and that he was adding a little something extra in consideration of the holiday season.

"There must be something your wife would like, perhaps. . . . . after all it is Christmas" and he was striding back to the party, nodding a smile to this and to that one of his business associates and friends.

Maria was pleased with the check which she put with rest of the bookkeeping materials.

"But you know, he could have added a little more, still this is enough for dinner at Dino's I guess. But didn't he ask you in for a drink, with that kind of a party there is always room for one more person, and you would have enjoyed seeing how the other half lives, wouldn't you Seppi?"

"That's all right, I would have felt out of place there. You know if he hadn't put the tip for the work in with the check he wrote, like handing me a twenty or something, I think I would have told him that it's not necessary. He must have thought I looked poor, so here's a little something extra for the feller. And they mean that as goodwill, sort of a Christmas charity I suppose. But it's OK, giving at Christmas is a nice idea, maybe we should do a little more, Maria."

She was thoughtful.

"You know those jars of pesto your mother gave us this summer, they are still on the back shelf and more than I need. Why don't I pack one up in fancy paper and we give to someone for a Christmas present? Maybe that nice Jewish accountant who does your taxes, I think his wife might be Italian and she'd like that..

In another part of the city. "You know what came in the mail this morning, Abe? It was a nicely wrapped jar with a Christmas note from somebody you know in business I think. On the top it was marked PESTO, I guess it is some sort of Italian sauce they use on a pizza. Very nice and thoughtful but I'm not Italian and I don't know what to do with it. Maybe we should just give to someone else, like those wedding presents we gave as present when we couldn't exchange them.

Abe was talking with Jimmy Rodriguez about taking a truckload of trash to the dump Friday, when he got an idea.

"You like pizza, Jimmy? Sure, homemade is best, and your wife makes it real well, maybe you could try some of this Italian pesto on it. Comes from Italy from one of my partner's relatives, why don't you take it along, Jim and how about a bottle of Rosh Hashanah wine to go with it? My father gets a case each year for his business friends and we have more than we need.

Jimmy was thinking to himself :

"Nice of Abe, but what am I going to do with this bottle of cheap wine with no label, she's going to ask where I got it and maybe it's gone bad. Maybe I can give it to someone tomorrow morning on my way to work, but walking down the street with a bottle in my hand and that jar of green stuff under my coat, doesn't look good. I got to get a paper bag to wrap it up.

At every subway stop there is a grate where the air from the system is pumped up and out into the street, good warm air and every bum recovering from his daily bottle of cheap wine knows that is a good place to locate as evening falls. One disreputable old fellow was stirring himself in his warm corner, when he spied Jimmy Rodriguez walking down the street with something tucked under his coat. He automatically held out his hand for a Christmas handful of change. Jim saw his chance and said: "How about a bottle of wine? All in the Spirit of Christmas!" And now all he had to do is get rid of the jar of green stuff.

Three Salvation Army musicians were wearily grinding out their timeworn repertory in front of the 13th Street mission. Their basket for donations was empty, it was not a good night to be out blowing a horn, and Jim felt sorry for them. He was putting in the basket a five dollar bill, when he had a second thought. It might blow away in the stiff breeze, so why not put something on top of it just be sure it stayed in place. Something heavy like that jar of pesto!

They blew their little band a little more cheerily and called out "A merry Christmas to you, and remember the good Lord sees everything we do night and day, and he is especially interested in watching over us in Christmas time."

William Harris
Prof. Em. Middlebury College
www.middlebury.edu/~harris