My Christmas Stories

A Kitten’s Christmas

I graduated from Fordham University in 1980 when I was twenty years old. I rented an apartment in a five-floor walkup, but could not immediately move in because of roach infestation. I bombed it and sprayed, but the little bastards clung to their residency status. It took two months of weekly bombing and spraying before I saw progress.

Upon graduation, Seamus, one of my best friends, gave me a kitten. After winning my battle with the little critters, I cleaned up the place and moved in, but I wouldn’t bring the cat to the apartment until I was sure the poison had dissipated sufficiently to not present a risk to the kitten. To her chagrin, I left my kitten temporarily at my mother’s house. 

The day before Christmas Eve (Shouldn’t that be Christmas Eve Eve?), I walked into my old bedroom only to see my kitten perched precariously on the icy windowsill. My sister had left the window open and the screen pulled up. 

I had an argument with her, telling her to at least leave the screen down so the cat wouldn’t be in any danger of falling out the window (You see where this going, don’t you?). She agreed.

After the expense of moving, I didn’t have any money left for Christmas presents. To remedy the situation, I took a one-day job delivering plastic slipcovers on Christmas Eve with Vincent (My three best friends were Johnny, Vincent and Seamus, I named my son John Vincent after the first two, while Seamus and his winsome wife Denise are his Godfather and Godmother). 

That particular Christmas Eve, it was cold, windy and icy; it took us eleven hours to get the job done. We made eighty-eight dollars each. 

My plan was to go buy presents after we were done. Before I hit Macy’s, however, I wanted to check on the cat. Walking into my old bedroom, I saw the window was wide open and the screen up. 

I searched the entire apartment looking for him to no avail. I went outside in a panic and searched around the house and adjacent properties for more than an hour. I could not find him. By then, the snow was about six or seven inches deep and even deeper in the drifts.

I was extremely distraught; I knew that my kitten would not survive in freezing temperatures for very long. I decided to search the yard one last time.

I was standing in the backyard by the entrance to the basement literally knee-deep in snow, calling out repeatedly at the top of my lungs, “Cat,”. He was only weeks old and I hadn’t named him yet.

Giving up, I was turning to walk away, when I heard a faint “Meow,” and then another one, and then another one.

I found him under the porch in the corner, buried in a snowdrift up to his eyes. I ran through the snow and scooped him up. His face was bloody and one of his back legs was at an odd angle to his body. I kissed him and put him under my shirt. He was shivering.

I rushed him down to the Animal medical Center on 62nd Street in Manhattan.  After the doctor examined him, he told me my kitten had a broken leg and asked if I wanted to put a cast on the leg or put him to sleep.

I said, “Cast, please!”

When my kitten was properly cast, I went to the cashier to pay the bill. It came to eighty-eight dollars, coincidentally, every penny I made working that Christmas Eve, and every dime I had on me. Desperado lived until he was fifteen. He loved me and I loved him. He rests peacefully next to his wife under an apple tree in my backyard. 

Santa Claus

When my son was about one, his mother left. I sold my businesses and bought the house I still live in today.

One Christmas Eve when he was about three or four, as usual, I put him to bed at seven-thirty, but because I was feeling down and holding him always made me feel like I was a king, with unimaginable riches, at nine I went into his bedroom and carried him back downstairs. I never did that before, when he went to bed, he went to bed, and there was no getting up.

As he lay on my chest, we watched It’s a Wonderful Life together. We still watch it together every year. This will be our twenty-eighth year of doing so.

Anyway, the movie ended, and I was holding my beautiful little boy in my arms as we looked out our front window. It was another cold and windy Christmas Eve. Standing there with him in my arms looking out, we watched the snow blowing helter-skelter across the frozen street. 

I heard the jingling bells first, and then the clop-clop of a horse. John heard it too. 

Then, it happened. Santa Claus riding in a one horse open sleigh rode past my house. John Vincent was wide awake. He screamed with delight, “There he is. There he is.”

I don’t know how long that man did that, but we waited for him every Christmas Eve. He came for a number of years in a row, until one Christmas he stopped coming, but by then John was too old to appreciate it the way he did when he was a child. 

Funny thing though, I have asked many people on the block and in the neighborhood if they ever saw him. To date, I have never met anyone else who had.

A Chicken Christmas

One Christmas Eve, when John Vincent was about five or so, I wanted to teach him about charity and generosity.

At the time, I was running a chicken and pizza joint on Baychester Avenue in the Bronx. I packed up my little boy and we went into the shop and made 25 chicken dinners. We took those dinners and, along with the $300 in five-dollar bills I had on me, we went downtown to give chicken to the homeless.

All over the west and east sides of lower Manhattan we went. I made John present the food and I would ask, “Would you like a chicken dinner or a five-dollar bill?”

Most said both, something I hadn’t anticipated, but it was all good.

It was getting late and at that point, we were chickenless. Besides, we had an appointment with George Bailey and our Santa Claus in his one-horse open sleigh.

Driving home on the Cross Bronx Expressway, the car broke down. A Good Samaritan in a tow truck came by. At the time, it would have normally been about a thirty-dollar towing fee for the two-mile tow to my house.

Our Samaritan, seeing me with a little boy stuck on the side of the road on Christmas Eve in the ghetto, told me the tow was going to be $110. I told him it was too expensive. He told me, “That’s too bad, take it or leave it.”

I took it. Counting out the money to pay him, I realized that the $110 towing fee was exactly all the money I had left. 

I paid him in five-dollar bills.

Letter to Santa

In 2005, a friend who worked in Manhattan gave me a “Letter to Santa Claus,” she had picked up from a bin in the main post office.

On Christmas Eve, my son and I took the letter and went to Toys R Us. It was so crowded, we could barely move. Yet, unbelievably, we immediately snagged a customer service representative. And, unbelievably again, despite the store being practically stripped bare, they had exactly what the girl and her sister wanted. It was some sort of girly (The term “Girly” is not a micro-aggression, is it?) furniture set with drawers and lights and mirrors for putting on makeup). The set cost me five hundred fifty dollars.

They lived on Warburton Avenue in Yonkers. Luckily, there was a parking spot right out in front of the building. As John and I got out of the car, two little girls started screaming from their window, “There they are, there they are!”

Those little girls were waiting for us. 

They lived on the fifth floor in an apartment with little in it. One girl was maybe six, and the other, perhaps nine. They squealed for joy when we brought up their presents. The mother said, “Thank you,” the kids did too, repeatedly. 

We weren’t there long, but I remember thinking that those pieces of furniture were probably the only presents those little girls would receive that year. It made me feel good. 

That was the best money I ever spent. I can still see their faces and I still have the letter.

Best Christmas

The best Christmas I ever had (not including every one with my son), ironically was on December 27, a few years back.

The ever beautiful and wonderful Cabrina was afraid to drive in the snow, and that year it snowed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. She finally arrived at my house late on the 26th. We went to bed and opened our presents in my solarium the following morning, while the snow was, “carefully everywhere descending.”

She gave me a couple of dozen presents, probably not one costing her more than five or ten dollars. Yet each one was like something she pulled out of my heart through my soul. 

I had become used to not getting presents I wanted. Consequently, I never ask for anything in particular from anyone.

How did she know that I would want all those things? 

I am sure I never asked her for any of them. Yet, not only were those the best Christmas presents I ever received, they were better than all the presents I ever received from all the girls I ever had, combined.

God’s Grace

Lately, I have been thinking about these things.

Why, was the bill at the Animal Medical Center $88 and not $125?

Why was that tow $110 and not $150?

How was it that John and I were able to walk into Toys R Us, packed like a Tokyo commuter train, and still get everything we wanted, in record time?

How did we pull up in front of the building on Warburton Avenue just when those little girls were looking out their window?

How did Cabrina the lovely know exactly what to get me?

On August 29, 2008, I was crushed against a wall by a 48-foot tractor-trailer. How did I survive? I know I didn’t pull that truck off of me. Who did?

The answer to each of these questions is God. In each and every instance God has saved me.

Thanks to God, I have lived a wonderful life.