Updated: Dec 25, 2021
By Bob Deakin
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, a 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 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.
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 (yes, 19). I did just that but got denied in the first place. I tried again, however, at a nicer store, showed my ID, and somehow had 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.
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, gave them a quick merry Christmas, which surprised them so much I don’t think they knew how to react.
My next stop was one of my co-workers and her husband, who hung out at the restaurant and both treated me well 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.
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, 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 a humble confidence. He’s real. At work, we usually talk about music from the 1950s or his grown children.
I park my car and head for his front door, looking around because it’s a bad 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. Oh well.
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 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 an 18-year-old 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.