Finding Meaning

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Christmas Kindness 

By skip Hellewell

Are you searching for that true meaning of Christmas? It’s elusive, easily lost in the hustle and bustle. The true spirit can catch you unawares, when least expected. If you all shared an account of your very best Christmas, it would make a great book. A bestseller, if I could just get it out of you. I have one to get us started.

As the story begins, I’m driving home for Christmas in my 1960 Studebaker Lark. We’re crossing Nevada in the darkest hours of the night and it’s very cold, even in the car. It’s 18 degrees below zero outside, coldest spot in the U.S. that night. I notice something sure to ruin our plans: a blob of engine oil moving up the windshield. Bundled up in the car with me is the future Beautiful Wife and my two sisters. I return to the town we just passed, Battle Mountain, worried about a ruined engine.

We spend the rest of the night in a dreary 24-hour café. It’s so cold out that ice has frozen on the inside of the windows. A waitress, old, gray, and tired, finishing her life on the graveyard shift of the local joint, approaches. We’re college students on tight budgets but to stay out of the cold, we order hot chocolate. Cheapest thing on the menu. The name of the waitress is Mary, I remember that. We pass the night getting acquainted with Mary, a friendly lady collecting our hourly hot chocolate orders. Perhaps it was the true spirit of Christmas, more likely a substitute for a tip, but we decide to make a Christmas card for Mary. The girls produce scissors, tape, pens and magazines from their purses, and we create a collage on napkins telling of all the wondrous things that Christmas might bring Mary. By the time we finish it’s 20 pages long, but Mary’s shift has ended. Disappointed to not have thanked her, we leave the card, hoping she will get it.

We’re first in line when the local garage opens. They decree the engine must first be cleaned of oil and point to an old guy in ragged clothes who hangs around hoping to make a little money doing the dirty work. He cleans the engine and we anxiously await the mechanic’s diagnosis. It turns out the problem has disappeared with the sub-zero cold and we just need an oil change. I’m unaware of the old man, but he has taken the full measure of my concern.  He approaches me with a question, “You’re college students, aren’t you?” When I answer, he pulls out a worn wallet, opens it, and I see the sole contents: three $1 bills. “Here,” he says, pulling out the bills, “take this, to help with your education.”

Many Christmases have passed since that night in Battle Mountain. I convinced the Beautiful Wife to take a chance on a guy who carried a slide rule and drove a Studebaker. Children came, and then grandchildren. But every year as Christmas nears and we search for its true meaning, I remember Battle Mountain. Mary and the old man are long gone to dusty graves, but their kindness lives on. Its meaning will always be with us.

Now it’s your turn to share a story. The Beautiful Wife and I wish you a meaningful holiday season. One other thing:  If you’ve been away from church, drop in this Sunday. You just might find what you’ve been looking for.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email: [email protected].

Places to worship (all on Sunday, unless noted):

Baha’i’s of Laguna Beach—contact [email protected] for events and meetings.

Calvary Chapel Seaside, 21540 Wesley Drive (Lang Park Community Center), 10:30 a.m.

Chabad Jewish Center, 30804 S. Coast Hwy, Fri. 6 p.m., Sat. 10:30 a.m., Sun. 8 a.m.

Church by the Sea, 468 Legion St., 9 & 10:45 a.m.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 682 Park Ave., 10 a.m.

First Church of Christ, Scientist, 635 High Dr., 10 a.m.

ISKCON (Hare Krishna), 285 Legion St., 5 p.m., with 6:45 feast.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, 20912 Laguna Canyon Rd., 1:00 p.m.

Laguna Beach Net-Works, 286 St. Ann’s Dr., 10 a.m.

Laguna Presbyterian, 415 Forest Ave., 8:30 & 10 a.m.

Neighborhood Congregational Church (UCC), 340 St. Ann’s Drive, 10 a.m.

United Methodist Church, 21632 Wesley, 10 a.m.

St. Catherine of Siena (Catholic), 1042 Temple Terrace, 7:30, 9, 11, 1:30 p.m. (Spanish), 5:30 p.m.  There are 8 a.m. masses on other days and Saturday 5:30 p.m. vigils.

St. Francis by the Sea (American Catholic), 430 Park, 9:30 a.m.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 428 Park Ave., 8:00 & 10:30 a.m.

Unitarian Universalist, 429 Cypress St., 10:30 a.m.

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