By Pat Sullivan
My husband, Chuck, and my sister, Lee, are partners in a heating company in Chicago. Lee is the hirer, 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 Hanna when it comes to spending company money.
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 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.
One woman called in tears. She lived in a very low-income section of Chicago. She had been phoning for several hours, one heating company after another, trying in vain to get a serviceman to fix their broken heater. 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, and when I told the customer, Mrs. Jenkins, not to worry, she said, God bless you Miss.
Lee turned the call over to Chuck, as all of the other men were out. Bump that other call I gave you; they only have a noisy burner. This is 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 her 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 patched clothes.
After Chuck had got 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 Christmas? The child looked him right in the eye and answered, No more Santa Claus, Mama says. No use to ask him for any toys, cause he’s dead.
Lee never said a word, but brusquely handed Chuck another call. We worked, all three of us, most of the night.
The next morning Lee called in to tell us she hadn’t heard her alarm and would be 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 and striped peppermint canes. We drove through thick snowflakes, 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 tree. Nearby was Mrs. Jenkins, smiling through her tears, as she carefully unpacked a Nativity scene and reverently placed the figures of the holy family on her dining room table.
Well, don’t just stand there, get busy! Lee said, tossing a box of tinsel to my open-mouthed husband. What took you so long?
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