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Growing Up On Christmas Eve

Updated: Mar 24

Photographs by Joe Dolen

Christmas Eve is the time to see your people. The little things don’t matter on this day, the well-being of your family and friends is all that does.

When I was 18, I had a car, job, and felt like an adult. All the family traditions were in place, and I wasn't going to miss that, but I felt a new calling. I worked at the former Chuck’s Steak House in Danbury, CT, and there were a few people who either worked there or came in that were nice to me that year that I felt obligated to pay back.

Growing Up On Christmas Eve

I had a list of five and knew where they lived. The plan was to give them each a bottle of Champagne at their front door, say Merry Christmas, thank them for being them, then leave.

My first obstacle was being underage and not streetwise. I confided in a friend who told me to go over the state line to Brewster, NY, and try my luck there, where the drinking age was 19. I did just that but got denied in the first place. I tried again at a nicer store, showed my ID, and somehow got my stuff.

I couldn’t believe what I had just done: I bought bottles of booze! I was a big shot and could give it away like a big shot. It's a Christmas miracle!

Visions of Sugar-Plums Danced In My Head

I first went to a couple I knew on the west side of town. She gave me some great sports therapy that year for tendonitis, and her husband had been my baseball coach. Perfect. I went and gave them a quick Merry Christmas, which surprised them so much they didn't know how to react.

Next stop is one of my co-workers and her husband. Both treated me well all year and kind of looked out for me. Payback time. They were surprised and had company. I stopped in for a minute but that was it. I had an agenda.

When Out In the Driveway There Arose Such a Clatter

I visited two more friends, and they had the same reaction: surprise yet warm fuzzy feelings. All of these people were much older than me, and I looked younger than I was.

Now I’ve got one more stop. It’s near my house, and I’m feeling fantastic at the warm receptions I’ve received from giving. I'm a big shot.

I stop at the home of the last one, John, a great guy who cleans the restaurant each morning by himself, sometimes with his girlfriend (she's polite but sketchy.) He’s about 50 but looks older and talks about all things with humble confidence. He’s real. At work, we usually talk about music from the 1950s or his grown children.

But What To My Wondering Eyes Should Appear

I park my car and head for his front door, looking around because it’s a shady neighborhood. Before I get there, I hear music coming from a car in the driveway. There’s a guy in the front seat. It’s him. All alone. I step up and say hello. He's surprised but recognizes me in the dark and invites me in.

I hand him the bottle of Champagne and he brightens up, shakes my hand, and laughs. He's already got a bottle but happy to have another.

We talk for a few minutes, and I realize he’s had a fight with his girl and he’s pretty sad. We talk it out but he’s not in the usual talking mood. After a while, I decide it’s best to leave. We shake hands, and I’ll never forget the happy/sad smile on his face. He laughs again and waves as I walk to my car.

I don’t comprehend the situation at the time. I just hope I made his night a little better. I pray for him and his family. I know he didn’t expect 18-year-old Bobby to stop by with Champagne and talk about life on a sad Christmas Eve. He deserves better.

Merry Christmas big shot.

I grew up that Christmas Eve. I’ll never again know the kid who went to the first house, but I’ll always know the young man who left the last one.



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