Fellow AAPub author and my friend Ron Shaw and I have both lived in Georgia, Ron since he was born and me on and off for years in various cities and towns throughout the state. I suppose it was inevitable that, at some point, we would swap stories of Georgia Christmases, and now, with Ron’s permission, I’m sharing our true tales with YOU!
Merry Christmas to you and yours from the two of us!
Ron’s story as written to be shared with another AAPub author and ex-law enforcement officer Dave Grady for publication on bardsnest.com :
My fine friend, it was the night before Christmas, and the stockings were hung with care in the flickering hope for once Dad would be there.
Dave, you know what’s coming. Holidays of all shapes and sizes are important to us no matter the hum or bug, and this is no different to those wearing the badge and gun. Folks, Dave will back me up on this, as surely as he would if a desperado were drawing down on me.
Those in law enforcement generally must work the longest hours, when other citizens are having fun. A holiday to those in uniform with handcuffs equates work.
For decades my family celebrated most holidays with me either going or gone to work, and Christmas was no different. We worked while others joyfully played. It was a huge price to pay, but all over the globe this is happening on this fine day.
Criminals take no breaks. Celebratory activities flourish, traffic builds, parties, singing, parades, more parties, and you get the gist of the situation. We in uniform must find our warm and fuzzies in whatever way we can on the clock when the red letter, big days swing by.
With that said, Dave, let me tell you of a true Christmas miracle that occurred in the year of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, 1990.
At that time, our daughter was in the Girl Scouts. Donna was an assistant scout leader in her troop. As Halloween rolled around, an idea was hatched for the coming Christmas.
It started out as a tiny, twinkling ray of giving. My daughter and the girls decided they wanted to give back this particular Christmas, and they wanted to start early.
It was simple really. Each girl would make a personal gift box for a girl or boy in need. The gifts for boys were to be wrapped in blue and the girl’s boxes in pink.
They could gift anything their little hearts dictated. The only limit was one of size of the packages – no wrapped box of gifting larger than a shoe box.
No limits were placed on the cost or number of items inside. It was an anonymous and a personal thing for each girl.
And then, Dave, the miracle happened. This thing exploded like the final, huge burst of fireworks at a 4th of July show.
Before we could exhale, the idea went viral. Other troops within our county of residence, their scout leaders, and families became involved. Parents, siblings, brothers even, and friends were now making their gift boxes. Remember, this started just after Halloween 1990.
My wife Donna had rightly so volunteered me to play Santa for this project. The large bags of toys would be hand delivered to the charity group by the Atlanta SWAT team. Oh, I volunteered them, after all, I was their LT.
I loved the entire idea from the beginning.
You see, brother Dave, the bags had to be packed and delivered to the huge charity group by no later than 12/20 to ensure the gifts would reach the children by Christmas morning.
In case we forget, once again, recall that many have to work while most enjoy the day.
The boxed gifts were gathered and stored in large, black, thick-plastic trash bags. Dave. You know, the largest, heavy duty ones.
Before you could say Tiny Tim, there were about 22 bags full of toys for needy girls and boys. My good friend, you read it right, that many goodies.
It took us several police vehicles to deliver them to the huge, charitable organization whose offices were located in downtown Atlanta, and if my Major, Deputy Chief or Chief of Police felt wind of this, my ass would’ve been grass.
Well, that was the logistical idea.
My SWAT guys and I carried the bags up to the floor to where the group stored such gifting. Everyone knows this organization. I will not tarnish their name. They are perfectly capable and apparently willing to do that on their own and have done so in my humble first-hand-experience opinion.
That day, though, the bags went up the elevator, and then they came back down the same elevator.
You see, Dave, the lady working the ‘received’ area could not have cared less about what she was doing for others. She was almost as interested in us and all of this love and joy in black, plastic bags as she was in answering the phone in front of her that was ringing off the hook. She wouldn’t answer it, Dave.
Next, she sighed in disgust as she saw how many bags we had. The hugeness of the love we carried meant she had to get her rear end up from her chair and unlock a larger room door to house the love. She did this slowly, and Dave, the room was filled with toys crushing each other.
It was a pitiful sight… ho, ho, ho. See and hear this delivered in disgust like the store Santa in the famous Christmas movie that plays non-stop on TV every December 25th..
The lady said, “Y’all just throw them in there.”
One of my guys looked at me with two, heavy bags in hand and exclaimed, “Oh, hell no!”
I replied looking at the lady, “Hell, no!”
We carried the bags to the SWAT hut, stored them in the basement, and waited on Christmas Day. Like Santa and many police officers, we would be working that day per norm.
My guys and I were like excited, impatient children, delighted to be Santa on Christmas Day in the very same projects, to which we were routinely dispatched in the direst of circumstances.
Dave, several of my guys and I had worked the projects for years before coming to SWAT. A couple of us had been born and raised in them or other areas of poverty. We knew what unexpected joy was waiting on Christmas morn for the kids in the projects.
Kids in poverty learn at the earliest possible age that Santa doesn’t exist. There’s no one out there to help you -true and crushing.
Donna and her leaders were told of the situation. All were overjoyed that this, too, would be a personal affair. The girls liked the fact that we would give their gifts from our hands into those of the children. All could rest in ease with the knowledge the gifts would go directly to the children by SWAT guys and girls.
Christmas Day finally came, and my gang was stoked. We had other duties to get to that busy day, and we arrived at work early.
The bags were loaded into the cruiser sleighs. Each Santa was dispatched to his or her chosen or assigned project, and I was forced to watch from afar.
I can testify that it’s tough on those, who have to stay behind while Santa takes point.
It was great fun, though, when later that morning all of my Santa’s in ninja gear flew back to the precinct and reported blow by blow how they had handled their gifting.
Generally, it went like this. The SWAT car slowly pulled into the project and drove around it like Santa circling his next house for the perfect rooftop landing. Then the children gathered around the parked sleigh as the trunk flew open. Santa SWAT then handed the gifts to his flock – pink for girls, blue for boys. Laughter and joy filled the area in project after project.
One team member reported, “Lieutenant, there were some killer toys in those boxes.”
I had known this would be the case, because I had seen what our daughter had given within the several boxes she had filled to the brim and wrapped.
Christmas, 1990, was nothing short of a miracle.
We continued the tradition for a couple of years afterward, but all good things have a season. Magic is fleeting.
Dave, I know we had agreed to take a cop story break for a week or so, but this one had to be told today.
Donna, Amber and I wish a very Merry Christmas to you and yours, my good friend.
Not to be outdone, I replied to Ron’s email with this true story of my own:
Your story brought tears to my eyes, Ron – not just because of its own poignancy, but because it reminded me of Christmas, 1986, in Dublin, Georgia, where my husband was the Kmart manager.
Always one to give back, he organized a child’s tree just inside the doors to his store, and, Dublin being a smaller town in which others’ needs were more apparent, folks really responded.
The names, ages, and sizes of needy children were garnered from various agencies and departments in town, and these statistics were listed on a star for each child. Families could then take the star, buy appropriate gifts, and bring them to the Kmart for delivery directly to the children. The response was overwhelming as over 30 bicycles were bought for these children, among other gifts of all sizes and types.
As with those in law enforcement, those who work in retail are also absent from their homes at this time of year. Soon it became time for the toy deliveries to be made, but who was going to do it?
No one could be spared from the store, so guess whose shoulders this responsibility landed on? You got it in one – mine!
I, of course, turned to my sons for assistance, and my dad, who was visiting with my mom for Christmas, raised his hand as well.
Christmas Eve Day for me was already fully booked. I had pies and stolen to bake, as well as our traditional pre-Christmas Eve service dinner to prepare, but still…
Arriving early at the store, my husband had things well-organized, including Santa hats for all four of us to wear. Nowhere on the gifts or our car was the name Kmart in evidence. This was not an advertisement. It was an outpouring of community love, pure and simple.
I can’t tell you how many deliveries we made throughout that day, but I know it was almost five o’clock by the time we returned home.
Before our last trip to the projects, my husband set two large, black trash bags on the middle of the back seat between our boys, each one filled to the brim with boxes of candy canes and other individually wrapped Christmas goodies that they were to hand through the car windows to the excited children who were still standing around outside watching us make the deliveries, it being fairly warm that year in middle Georgia.
The happiest, most excited faces I saw that day? Those of my father, husband, and sons, because you see, Ron, the greatest joy is not in the receiving, but rather in the giving.
Merry Christmas to you and yours!