It’s the Christmas season. It’s a time we long for peace on earth and goodwill to all. Yet, not all days are merry and bright. My hope today is that this little story might brighten your day; that, for you, it may be today’s gift.
This and other stories of the season can be found in my book “My Best Christmas and Other Stories of the Season” by David Koning. It’s available at Amazon.
“Looks like Leon’s back,” said Marian, eyeing the large red letters in the front window of the house that, when read from the outside, said something like L-E-O-N. “I think he’s ready for this.” She patted the banana box between them on the seat of the old Ford pickup. They were parked, engine running, at the end of a long driveway on a cul-de-sac called Spruce Circle. Blue exhaust puffed from the back of the truck. The headlights poked into the darkness, illuminating a mailbox and a newspaper tube poised to receive tomorrow’s Christmas edition. It pleased Marian to see the house decorated again after a year of nothing, a year of darkness. She was especially fond of the large red letters that, when read from the inside, said N-O-E-L.
“Okay,” said Davis, “But I’m not so sure I’m ready for this.” The couple’s breath created puffs of fog in the heaterless cab of the truck. The old couple considered their next move.
“So, let’s do it. Just like we talked,” Marian said.
“Just walk right up there?” Davis B. said.
“Yep, just walk right up there.”
“Knock on the door?”
“Yessir! You can do it.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yep. Doin’ what we do every month, you just get to know people, an’ what they need.”
“You don’t wanna come?”
“Nope. I’ll be waitin’ right here in the get-away truck listening to Christmas music.” She giggled.
“Ain’t done nothing like this since I was a kid in Iowa.” He shook his head.
She looked at him, then tapped the box. “We’ve had it for a year. They need what’s in it – to heal. It’s time to give it back.”
“Yeh, you’re probably right? OK. Here I go.”
Davis B. quietly clicked open the door. He slid himself and the banana box off the duct taped seat, stood up and hoisted the box with the black letters, ‘L-E-O-N,’ that Marian had printed on the top. Davis walked in front of the truck and squinted past the headlights through the windshield at Marian. She shooed him with a wave of her hand and whispered, “Go! It’s our gift. It’s how we can help…”
It was the fourth Wednesday of December and Davis B. and Marian Bright were where they usually were on any given fourth Wednesday. However, this time, instead of taking something away, they were giving something back…
For years the Brights benefitted from Hanson County’s monthly trash pickup day. One day a month, people could put out rubbish not normally allowed during the weekly trash pickup. The county would collect the trash and dump it. Davis B.’s goal was to get to it first and pull out the good stuff. He’d sell what he could at a flea market, yard sale or Sjaarda’s Metal Recycling.
The Brights knew that some of the best gleaning opportunities were found on Spruce Circle, but as they did their monthly route they picked up more than trash. Through casual observation they got to know a little about the people as well.
It was the fourth Wednesday in April. They were parked opposite the house they called the ‘LEON House.’ Marian would have liked to actually visit and chat a bit with the people who lived there. “I’d like to get to know the folks we do business with,” she said. “Can’t be much different than us.”
“Yeh, right,” said Davis, sweeping his hand in the direction of a large two-story, looming over the only spruce tree in the neighborhood. “Those folks in that ‘Spruce House’ over there, they ain’t much like us, Marian.”
“Take away all the trappin’s – the big house and fancy cars an’ all – I bet they’re like us in more ways than you think,” she said. “They have their good times and bad, just like we do.”
“They throw away more stuff than we do, that’s for sure,” Davis said. “I say we get in, find what we can use, and get out. These people don’t want to get to know anyone that’s pickin’ through their trash.”
The fourth Wednesday of May, Marian and Davis B. were poking through a trash pile in front of the ‘White House,’ as they called the large house with a pillared front porch. “The guy living there looks like Eisenhower,” Davis once said.
Marian opened the torn bottom of an old black recliner. “Not bad! she said, “Two dollars and fifty-three cents for the kids’ college fund. Plus, three paper clips, a toy car, a set of keys and popcorn.”
Davis B. chuckled and eyed a dark green SUV pulling into the flower lined driveway of the ‘LEON House’ across the circle. Spring through fall, Marian admired the flower beds in front of the brick two-story. She also admired the work that Daisy, as she called her, put in to make the display the best on the cul-de-sac. When it came to flowers, Marian and Daisy had a lot in common.
Davis tossed a bundle of bent curtain rods onto his load. They got into the truck. Marian unloaded her recliner plunder into a rusty coffee can while Davis B. observed a crowd of kids with striped shirts, bulgy shins and knobby black shoes unloading from the vehicle. Their chauffeur dragged behind.
“Daisy’s a soccer mom.” Marian said. “She looks tired.”
“What’s with the babushka?” Davis noticed the brightly colored bandana with which she had covered her head.
“Hmmm… I don’t know…,” said Marian quietly as they drove away.
It was the fourth Wednesday in July, and as the summer wore on, it was business as usual on Spruce Circle for Davis B. and Marian. A steady stream of useable refuse flowed monthly from the residences. It provided them with materials to sell and gave Marian clues about the people living behind the fancy doors.
“Baby’s getting a new bed at the ‘Spruce House’,” Marian said, while Davis tossed battered crib parts into the truck.
Davis said, “Looks like the Eisenhower’s are moving,” stating the obvious as he maneuvered around the immense truck from Carlson Van Lines parked in front of the ‘White House.’ “Maybe the next guy will look like Nixon.” Davis laughed.
He pulled up to the ‘LEON House.’ The couple got out of the truck to check out the modest stack of stuff by the curb. Davis worked the junk pile while Marian took notice of the flowers by the mailbox.
“Daisy’s slipping,” she said. “There’s way too many weeds here. She’s not picking off the dead flowers, either.” Marian hesitated then walked over to the nearest row of flowers and gently pulled out a handful of tall weeds growing by the edge.
Davis interrupted his inspection of boxes from Vos Medical Supply. “What’re ya doin’, Marian?” “Remember – get in and get out. Don’t get involved.”
“I think Daisy could use a little help, is all,” she said as they got in the truck and drove off.
The fourth Wednesdays of August and September came and went. October arrived and so did the Brights. This time of the year most of their gleaning was done in the dark. Marian didn’t mind working in the dark, especially if people left their curtains open.
“Look, Davis. The Nixons have a grand piano in their front room,” Marian said, nodding towards the ‘White House’.
They slowly drove around the circle letting the lights of the old truck land on heaps of October’s throw-aways. Davis slowed the truck to inspect the trash at the ‘LEON House.’ Marian was more interested in the scene in the living room in the house up the hill. Her curiosity was born out of growing compassion for Daisy and her family.
“Doesn’t look good for Daisy.” Marian said.
“Nope,” he said. “She’s been in that bed for a few months now.”
“I wonder how the family’s holdin’ up?” Marian said. “I’d sure like to help if I could.”
Davis sighed, put the old truck in gear, and drove out of the circle.
Even though the fourth Wednesday of November was the day before Thanksgiving, Davis B. and Marian performed their monthly duties as usual in Spruce Circle. An inch of frozen slush on the road crunched under the smooth tires of the truck as they rolled around the circle in the darkness.
“Wind’s sure sharp tonight.” Marian said. They made their stops as quickly as possible to avoid the stinging air. They picked up a few two-by-four scraps at the ‘Spruce House’. Davis rescued a rusty old gate sitting in a puddle in front of the ‘White House’. They continued around the circle until they reached the ‘LEON’s.’
“Nothin’ here, Davis. Nothin’,” said Marian. “Strange.”
“Yeh, they usually have somethin’,” said Davis.
“Look up there, Davis, up in the house.”
“Quit y’er snooping, now,” he said and then glanced up hill toward the house. There was nothing. Nothing on the curb. Nothing in the living room behind the window.
“Bed’s gone,” he said.
It was all too clear to Marian. “Daisy’s gone,” she said. She looked down. “I wish I coulda – maybe helped some – with the kids or the flowers or something.”
Davis said nothing as he nudged the truck forward over the crunchy road heading out of the circle.
Marian turned for one last look at the ‘LEON House.’ “I wish I coulda got to know her somehow, maybe even her real name…” She wiped moisture from the foggy windows and from her eyes.
“There’s nothin’ the likes of us could do for them,” Davis said.
Then Marian screeched, “Stop!” Davis crammed on the brakes, the wheels locked up and slid a few feet on the ice.
“What in the world – !?” Davis said.
“Look, it’s Leon!” Marian rasped. “He’s putting out some trash. Turn off the lights. Let’s wait.” They sat a minute, just out of reach of the street light, watching the scene unfold.
He watched Leon slip and fall on the ice, losing the box he was carrying. It slid a few feet away from him down the icy driveway. Leon got up, yelled something profane and gave the box a kick, then fell again. “Ouch,” Davis chuckled.
“Oooo, ouch!” he said when Marian smacked him in the chest. “What’s that for?!”
“Davis!” Marian scolded. “Can’cha see? He’s mad. Mad about falling. Mad at the box. Mad at… ,” she paused and looked at Davis. “His wife died, ya’ know.” He don’t need more pain… He needs us.”
After Leon was safely back inside, Davis pulled the truck around the circle once more to investigate a single item perched on the curb. Marian hopped out first. She walked up to a banana box, lifted the cover and surveyed the contents. “Daisy’s stuff,” she thought as she fingered through old letters, journals… memories. “He can’t throw this away.” She stood, looked up the slope at the house, then said out loud to Davis who had emerged from the truck, “I can’t let him get rid of this just ‘cuz he’s mad.”
“Marian,” he said quietly. He tugged at her elbow, coaxed her toward the truck. “Let’s just mind our own business. Let’s go.”
“OK,” she said. Marian returned the cover, picked up the box and gently placed it on the seat between them as they drove home.
A year of fourth Wednesdays had come and gone. A year since the Brights rescued Daisy’s banana box from Leon’s trash pile. Now, on the fourth Wednesday of December, Davis B. and Marian Bright were where they usually were on any fourth Wednesday: sitting in their pickup truck on Spruce Circle. This time, instead of taking away, they were giving back.
Banana box in hand, Davis walked slowly past the mailbox up the driveway, thinking, “Get in, get out. Don’t get involved.”
Marian shooed him with a wave of her hand. She whispered, “Go! It’s our gift. It’s what they need…” Then, impulsively she pulled on the door handle, opened the door and followed after Davis. Words from the radio “… may your days be merry and….” spilled out of the truck into the winter air. Davis paused and turned.
“I figured you couldn’t just sit there,” he said. He continued on with Marian holding onto his left arm and the box cradled in the other.
When they reached the front door, Davis reached out a gloved hand and pounded. Marian stood behind him and peaked around his shoulder. She held her breath. He knocked a second time. Lights in the foyer flashed on and glowed through the window. Davis jumped when the porch light came on. They heard a patter of footsteps, voices, then a click. The door knob turned. The door opened and revealed a young man. Two girls appeared, peeking through the window by the door.
“Leon!” Marian put her hand over her mouth.
The man said, “Hello…? Can I help you?”
Davis cleared his throat. “I’m Davis B. –
“I’m Marian Bright,” Marian quickly slid up next to her husband. “We have a gift.” She patted the box then blurted. “It’s yours actually, in the first place. See, we come around here on the fourth Wednesday of the …” Davis cleared his throat again and gave her the ‘don’t get involved’ look. Marian stopped talking.
Davis continued. “This here box is what we rescued from your trash – about a year ago. We, uh – thought you’d should have it back.” The puzzled young man stood in the doorway. Davis politely handed the box marked ‘LEON’ to the man.
“Memories,” said Marian. “Of Daisy…”
“Daisy?” said the man.
“You don’t need to open it now. Maybe later,” Marian said. “It’s for you and the girls – for Christmas.”
“Leon?” the man said, rubbing his chin and looking over at his daughters.
“It’s a long story.” Davis B. shook his head and chuckled sheepishly.
The man said, “My name is Mark.” He opened the door and motioned for the odd pair to come out of the cold.
Marian said, “Hi, Mark,” then started again to explain in earnest. “You see – we come around here on the fourth Wednesday of the month and we …,” and on and on she went, telling the whole story, as Mark and the girls listened in amazement to the stranger standing in their foyer.
Davis looked at his wife, and this time, he let her talk. He glanced at the banana box. It was her gift after all. She was helping like she wanted to all along.