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Tim was thoughtful as he pulled his car out of the parking lot from work, and onto the highway. He was mildly angry.

For the first time since he came to work at Canfield Industries four years ago, he had gotten a Christmas bonus. It was a bank envelope with a wreath on the outside and a one hundred dollar bill on the inside.

Everybody at the plant knew that it had been a banner year for Jeff Canfield. Business was great and you could see it in the ever-expanding collection of Jeff’s toys. First one new car, a huge thing that was sometimes in the parking lot on Friday mornings, complete with a brand new boat behind it. Then the new sports car.

Tim would notice how Jeff often pulled out of the parking lot at 2:00 on Friday afternoons to begin his weekend, while he was forced to sit behind his tiny desk in the shipping department, wishing that he could leave at 2:00, and get some golf in.

As he took the envelope from his shirt pocket, he checked to see if perhaps there wasn’t something more, and there wasn’t. "A hundred stinkin’ dollars" Tim said out loud, and continued with, "And I’ll bet he’s got millions."

As Tim drove toward home, he found himself glancing over at the envelope that now rested on the car seat. He knew that it his wife would be happy to see it, and that it would quickly disappear as she put it to "good use". Brenda handled the money, so Tim was always certain to cash his check on the way home. By doing this, he was sure to get the money for his weekly round of golf. He new that he was entitled to more because he was the major breadwinner, but that was as much as he could get past Brenda.

Tim often wished that he could play a few times a week, like the other guys, and he often wished that he could have a new set of clubs, like the other guys.

Each year on his birthday, again at Father’s Day, and again on Christmas Day, Tim would hope to get the "Big Daddy" driver that he longed for, but it was never there. And he knew that it wouldn’t be there this year either. Tim knew that the "Big Daddy" would improve his game, but he also knew that it would stop the boys from making fun of the ratty, twenty year old club that he had been using forever.

Tim was thinking all of this as he drove down Route 202 toward home. By the time he had reached his exit, he had stared down at the envelope on the seat enough times to convince himself that he was entitled to something for himself, for once.

When he got to the bottom of the ramp, he turned left, instead of his usual right, and headed directly to the mall, and the golf shop that contained so much that he coveted.

Tonight, he would have "Big Daddy". After all, if Jeff Canfield was entitled to toys, why wasn’t he? Tim even rationalized that if the bonus were of a decent size, he would have been happy to share it.

The wind pushed hard against him as he walked quickly across the parking lot. He had the envelope in hand as he pulled up the collar on his coat, and cocked his hat downward to keep the wind from his face. He was looking down as he bounded over the curb, and so he had no idea who had said "Merry Christmas, Tim". He raised his head and looked around, but it was not until Frank said it again, that Tim could identify him. Frank worked for Tim on the loading dock.

Tim was surprised to see that Frank was wearing a red vest, and standing next to a huge Salvation Army pot, bell in hand. It wasn’t that Frank wasn’t the kind of guy who would do such a thing. Tim just had trouble figuring out why anyone would brave the cold for such a thankless chore.

Not knowing how to avoid the situation, Tim stuck out his hand to Frank and wished him a Merry Christmas in return. He continued by saying "How long are you stuck doing this, Frank?" Frank smiled awkwardly and answered "Until ten, when all the stores close."

"You going to be able to stand the cold that long?" Tim asked. Frank answered by saying "It’s a colder night for all of those people without warm homes to return to".

Tim felt no sympathy for those folks. He mostly thought that guys like Frank were irritating with those kind of comments. He turned to walk away, but was obstructed for a moment by a man who was reaching into his pocket and putting a five-dollar bill into the pot.

Frank rang the bell, and said, "God bless you, sir" but it seemed to Tim that Frank was looking at him as he said it.

Not knowing how to get out of it, Tim reached into his pocket and was disappointed that he did not have any change. Grudgingly, he grabbed a dollar, and shoved it into the pot, all the while staring at Frank.

Pulling his hat back down, Tim said, "See ya’ later", with his back to Frank as he headed toward the Golf store. He really didn’t appreciate the way that Frank said, "God bless you!" as he walked away.

It didn’t take Tim very long at all to find his prize. He had stared at this particular club for so long that he knew that this was exactly what he wanted. Lovingly, he removed it from the cardboard, slid the plastic off of the grip and took a practice swing, right there in the aisle, with a broad smile on his face. He whispered "Merry Christmas, Tim" to himself.

He carefully placed the club back into the box, folded all of the flaps neatly back into place, and strolled toward the front of the store.

When it was his turn at the checkout, he was careful as he placed the long box onto the counter. The young man rang up $91.20, as Tim reached into his pocket for the envelope.

It was empty.

"Hold on", Tim said, in a voice that did not belie his feeling of alarm. He checked his pants pockets, and found only a dollar. Then he checked his jacket pockets, to no avail. Then he checked his wallet, even though he knew there was no chance that the hundred-dollar bill would be there, and then, as he began feeling edgy, he checked them all again.

Tim stopped and thought, and then brightened up a bit, as he realized that it must be on the seat of his car.

"Be right back", he said to the young man, and ran to his car.

There was no hundred-dollar bill on the seat.

Events in our life unfold in ways that are unplanned and messy. We often seem to make foolish decisions in those times when wisdom should be our only ally. This was to be such a time for Tim.

Resigned to the fact that he had lost the money, he pulled the car door closed, started the engine for warmth, and sat there. Being sure that he had dropped the money, he wondered if he could find it if he re-traced his steps. As he watched the debris being windswept across the parking lot, he knew that searching was probably pointless, but he decided to give it a try anyway.

Four steps out of the car; he heard the bell ring and looked over at Frank. Now, in full realization of what had happened, he stared at him. Frank hollered "Merry Christmas, buddy!"

Reaching slowly into his pocket, he pulled out the single, one-dollar bill that he knew he had left the house with that morning. To his immediate horror, Tim knew that he had slipped the hundred-dollar bill into the Salvation Army Christmas pot.

He stood there, consumed with the thought of getting it back.

Striding purposefully toward him, Tim decided to explain the terrible mistake to Frank. To his relief, providence provided an even better solution.

Before Tim could say a word, Frank said, "I’m supposed to get some relief every hour or so, to take care of necessary things. It don’t look like I’m going to get it tonight Tim, and I need a break." For effect, Frank performed a very brief version of the "pee dance". "Can you help out a friend? I just can’t leave this pot of money all alone."

Tim tried to remain calm as he said. "Sure, take your time. I can help out."

As Frank was slipping out of his vest, he said, "If I could just get fifteen minutes, I could get some coffee and warm up a little."

"No problem, take your time." Tim said, with all of the sincerity he could muster.

Tim put on the vest, and Frank handed him the bell, with the words "Merry Christmas, buddy."

Tim was uncomfortable as he stood there. He eyed the large pot, and studied it long enough to see that it had a lid that funneled down to a small hole. It appeared as though the lid was not secured to the pot in any way. As he was testing it to be sure, an eight year old boy slid a hand full of change into the pot. He looked at Tim, and then his mother, who smiled approvingly. The he looked back at Tim, who smiled nervously, as the boy stared at him. The mother broke the silence by asking Tim if he could ring the bell.

"Oh, sure", said Tim. He did so with relief.

When the boys’ mother said, "Merry Christmas." Tim just nodded, and looked away until he was sure they were gone.

Scanning the area, Tim saw that he had a moment, and so he quickly lifted the lid. His hunch was confirmed. There, in a sea of change and dollar bills of varying denominations, sat a single hundred-dollar bill.

As Tim sized up the position of money in the huge pot, he concluded that he could reach it. He was preparing to act quickly when a voice said, " Bless your soul, out here on a cold night like this." Tim only nodded, as he slowly lowered the cover back into place. Then he stood there as the woman wheeled herself close enough to put two careworn five-dollar bills into the pot. "Merry Christmas." Tim said, impassively.

"Merry Christmas to you. You people do so much for people like me." The older woman, who was pushing the wheel chair, paused just long enough to smile, and drop her own contribution into the pot.

Tim found that he was happy to have the bell to ring, so that he didn’t have to speak.

At their leaving, he stood stoically by the pot, waiting for his chance to recover what was his. As he waited, he took the lone dollar from his pocket and offered it to the pot in exchange. Tim was becoming aware of his own guilt.

For the next five minutes, Tim observed and noted how many people quickened their pace at the sight of him, and the huge cauldron. He was aware that many looked away from him, avoiding eye contact, just as he had always done.

He could not help but see that the folks who gave, did so in a humble fashion. He began watching their faces and noted that they gave with an unmistakable look of gratitude on their face. He saw that it was the well dressed that hurried by, or would throw in a coin or two. He watched an apparently wealthy woman separate the pennies from the rest of her coins, and throw only the pennies into the pot.

He was aware that he was ringing the bell steadily now, and that this seemed to call more people toward him. He was hugged three times, god-blessed seven times, had his hand shaken twice and received innumerable "Merry Christmases."

Tim was learning that those who seemed to have the least to give, gave the most, and with a happy heart.

"I’m surprised to see you here!" a voice bellowed toward Tim, and he was surprised to see Jeff Canfield. "Aren’t you freezing?" he asked Tim.

Tim surprised himself when he answered honestly "Not really." He was feeling too embarrassed, and far too emotional to say anything other than "Merry Christmas". He watched Tim peel off one dollar from a sizeable roll and place it in the pot.

He said, "You sure surprise me, Tim" before walking off. Tim was considering all that this meant, and felt shamed by it. The shame increased as he recalled why he was there. He began ringing the bell again, and the procession that passed him seemed to be aware of the warm tears that rolled down his cheeks.

And then Frank returned. The cup of coffee in his hand was steaming as he handed it to Tim, with a word of gratitude.

Tim was aware that Frank had noticed the tears, so he tried to wipe them quickly away.

They were alone now. Frank lifted the lid of the pot and stared into it.

"Look at that, Tim. It sure reminds you how wonderful people are doesn’t it?"

Tim found himself unable to look. He slowly removed the vest and handed it to Frank, and then followed with the bell, wordlessly.

"Hey, it gets to me too, buddy. Sometimes it makes me feel ashamed when I watch folks giving that seem to have so little. And then the other folks…" There was no need to finish the sentence, and so he did not.

Tim said "Merry Christmas" to Frank, and he was aware that he meant it. Perhaps for the first time ever.

By the time Tim returned home, he was later than usual, but not by much. He told Brenda that he had a little shopping to take care of, and when his voice wavered a little she asked "You O.K?" He nodded yes.

The next day, being Christmas Eve, was a busy one for Tim, as he worked through all of list items with Brenda. When he told her that she sure put a lot of thought into Christmas, she seemed surprised that he would say such a thing. Tim was quieter than usual throughout the day and the evening. Emotionally, he was seesawing between guilt for who he had become, and the epiphany that he experienced alongside a black cauldron. He was surprised how little he now cared about that one hundred dollar bill.

Tim welcomed bedtime when it came, and he slept thoroughly.

Christmas was always the same at Tim’s house. Since he always refused to leave, family met at his home. It was their three grown children, a few grandchildren, one brother, one sister-in-law with her husband, one mother-in-law, and Eileen. Eileen was a friend of Brenda’s that had no family in the area.

But this year, Tim was different. He sat silently, and felt real joy at watching the others open their gifts. He watched Brenda open the Mixmaster that he told her to get for herself and wished that he were more thoughtful. He promised himself that next year he would do better.

At Brenda’s insistence, Tim opened gifts that included two shirts, a sweater and a wallet. He noticed that Brenda had gotten him a new tape measure, and realized that she did so only because he had mentioned that his had broken, a few weeks before.

He watched her as she walked across the room, and toward him with a long slender package and a huge look of anticipation. She kissed him as she handed it to him.

Tim wordlessly unwrapped the Big Daddy golf club. He was aware of how acutely Brenda was watching him. He knew that she was waiting for a reaction, but Tim was fighting to keep his emotions bottled. He removed the club from the box and laid it across his lap, until he slowly rose and hugged his wife in a way that had become distant in his memory. He began to cry softly as he held her.

He choked out the words "Thank you" as he released her. Brenda pulled him back in after studying his face with the words "I know how much you wanted this. I’m sorry you had to wait so long."

Tim smiled and said "Did I mention it?" to which everyone in the room replied "about a million times!"

An hour later Tim sat in quiet disbelief when Patrick, his oldest son, arrived, and came immediately to him with a long slender package, and the words, "You’re gonna love this, Dad."

As Tim opened it, Brenda explained the reason for all of the laughing and joking to Patrick. They all howled when Tim put the identical golf clubs next to each other, alongside the tree.

Patrick displayed a look of pure shock, when his father hugged him.

Several times that day, Tim was heard to say "What a Christmas…"

Tim did not actually have to go to work on the following day, but it was his habit to check in, just for an hour or two, to make sure everything was O.K. in the shipping department that he managed.

Around 2:30, he walked through, and was pleased that things seemed to be in good order.

He stopped for a coffee from the machine and headed toward his desk. From ten paces away, he saw the Salvation Army vest on his desk. It was brand new. On it was a post-it note that read, "Merry Christmas, buddy. See you next year?" It was unsigned because it did not need to be signed. Tim folded the vest carefully, fully intending to use it next year.

Tim had no reason to stay longer, but he remained for a few minutes, deep in thought about all that had happened, before he began to walk toward his car. Tim considered how he was feeling, and settled on the idea that he was not just happy, but that he felt content, also.

As he drove home, he was wondering how he would explain the vest to Brenda. Perhaps he didn’t need to, he was thinking.

As he slowed into the driveway, and switched off the ignition, he sat for a moment, staring at the vest. He decided that he would tell Brenda the story, but he was not certain that he would reveal everything. He felt O.K. with that decision, at least for the moment.

As Tim grabbed up the vest, he noticed that the little post-it note had fallen, and was lying on the floor, almost under the seat.

It was stuck to a one hundred dollar bill.

story Information

Upload Date: 31/12/1969

Downloads: 2531

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