I believe the year was 1973 but I could be mistaken about that. I know the month was December and I am quite sure that it was one of the poorest times of my life. Almost twenty and already married for over a year, I’d been unemployed from August to October and had gotten desperate enough during that spell to drive a school bus to earn some munch money.
Then, I got a job working as a manager trainee at Fred’s department store in Fulton, Kentucky. The pay was barely above minimum wage but well above starvation and so we’d moved from Murray.
With Christmas coming soon I was in a bit of a quandary. It was very important to me to be able to give each of my siblings something for Christmas. Coming up with rent and grocery money left just about nothing and nothing was a bit short of what it would take to buy gifts for my three brothers and two sisters.
While browsing about inside the Ben Franklin store on Lake Street, I saw some clear glass vases with lids. They were about eight inches tall, with curved sides sloping up gracefully from the stem base. The lids curved in from the edge to a ball-shaped knob at the center. Perhaps even more pleasing than the shape was the price: eighty-nine cents apiece!
I bought five of them.
A few days later, it occurred to me that giving my siblings empty glass vases wasn’t likely to make much of an impression in the positive direction. Driving outside Fulton, I noticed a plethora of dried weeds, grasses and wildflowers. The sight gave me sort of a wild idea.
I stopped and broke off several handfuls. Some of the specimens had the remainders of fluffy seedheads. Others had graceful stems and blades. I took them home and set up a big, empty cardboard box on the porch of the rented house. Using three or four cans of leftover spray paint, I added color to the bleached grays and tans of the plants. After they’d dried, I arranged them inside the clear vases.
It wasn’t going to be a spectacular Christmas but at least I wasn’t going to feel ashamed when Freeda, Richard, Patsy, Paul and Johnny opened their gifts. In fact, they all seemed pleased.
Sometimes, I wonder if being a little poor might nudge us into doing a better job of honoring one another in this season of celebrating the arrival of a King who was born in a stable.