A West Side Christmas Story
A West Side Christmas Story
My husband, Chuck, and my sister, Lee, are partners in a heating company
in Chicago. Lee is the buyer, hirer, firer, phone answerer, typist,
bookkeeper, and office girl. She will bring hot soup and sandwiches to
a crew in an icy basement at three o'clock in the morning, but she is
Hard-Hearted Hannah when it comes to spending company money.
When she says "No" to an expense account item, or something she thinks
is a luxury, her eyes shoot fire... and Chuck, who is usually a very
verbal man, starts to tiptoe around her desk.
One day about a week before Christmas , all the phones in the office
seemed to start ringing at once. There were more broken boilers,
burned-out fire-pots, and stuck stack switches than there had ever been
before, and the men were working around the clock. I went into the
office to help out on the phones, and it was all I could do just to
write down the names and addresses of the people without heat. Worst of
all, it seemed that everyone who called either had a new baby, an old
grandmother, or had just gotten out of the hospital themselves.
One woman called in tears. She lived in a section of Chicago where
rioting, looting, and burning had taken place a few months earlier.
She had been phoning for several hours, one heating company after
another, trying in vain to get a serviceman to work in a black
neighborhood. I took the order and promised that a man would be there
within the hour.
Then she asked if she could pay a little money each week for the service
call, and I looked at Lee and repeated the question. She nodded,
"Okay," and when I told the customer, Mrs. Jenkins, not to worry, she
said, "God bless you, miss," and hung up.
Lee turned the call over to Chuck, as all the other men were out.
"Bump that other call I gave you; they only have a noisy burner. This
one is a no-heat. Better get right on it." Chuck left and was gone
for several hours.
When he came back, he told Lee, "Forget the billing on that one."
She looked at him, "Since when are we in the charity business?"
Then Chuck told us that Mrs. Jenkins was a widow with seven little
children. Her house was clean and bare with very few furnishings.
The children were thin and hungry-eyed, wearing worn and much patched
clothes. After Chuck had gotten the heat going, one of the smaller boys
had shyly come over to watch him pick up his tools, and Chuck patted him
on the head and asked, "What did you tell Santa Claus you wanted for
The child looked him right in the eye and answered, "Ain't no more Santa
Claus. Mama say he die, no use to ask him for any toys, cause he is
dead, and we ain't gonna get nothing anyways.
Lee never said a word, but brusquely handed Chuck another call and told
him to get going. We worked, all three of us, most of the night. The
next morning Lee called in to tell us that she hadn't heard the alarm
and would be in late. Chuck seemed strangely happy to hear this and
asked one of the men to watch the phones for a while, then hustled me
into my coat. "Can't spend a dime with that woman looking over my
shoulder," he grumbled.
When we pulled up in front of a large toy store, I knew what he was up
to. He hummed and whistled while he loaded the shopping cart with
dolls, games, trucks, and space ships. Then we headed to the candy
store for filled stockings, striped red-and-white peppermint canes, and
sugar figures of pigs, soldiers, and ballerinas. We drove through thick
snowflakes, bumper to bumper, all the way to the West Side, unloaded the
piles of presents and rang Mrs. Jenkins' doorbell.
In we trotted, behind the whooping children, to find a red-cheeked Lee
pinning a Christmas Star of Bethlehem on the top of a fragrant pine
Nearby was Mrs. Jenkins, smiling through her tears, as she carefully
unpacked a Nativity scene and reverently placed the figures of the Holy
Family in the middle of her dining-room table.
"Well, don't just stand there... get busy!" said Lee, handing a box of
tinsel to my open-mouthed husband. "What took you so long?"
by Pat Sullivan
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Broken Hearts II