Wednesday, 23 December 2015


            From volume five of the Autobiography of Dahn Batchelor
Rising from the Ashes

In 1964, I was in my early thirties and I was living alone in a small room in a rundown house with no relatives of my own within thousands of miles so it goes without saying that I hated Christmas. It was that time of year when I and thousands upon thousands of other lonely people living by themselves hoped that a family would adopt me on Christmas so that the pain of loneliness would go away at least for one day of the year.                                                                             

Well, I guess I could say that I nearly did get adopted one Christmas day. A gentleman and his family, whom I met on the beach several times during the previous summer, must have remembered me because I got a phone call from the gentleman on the day before Christmas of that year. I was asked if I was still living alone. I told him that I was. He asked, “Would you like to spend Christmas Eve and all of Christmas Day and Boxing Day in my home?”                                                        

Would I? Is the Pope Catholic? Both questions are academic. I arrived at their home in Forest Hill at seven in the evening as promised.  And what a home it was. A high iron fence surrounded the property and the driveway wound its way up a small hill and past some trees to where the house was situated. House? Compared to where I was living, it made the house where I had a room look like a hole in the ground with a tarp over it.
My host met me at the door and shook my hand vigorously and invited me in. There, standing just past the massive oak door was his family—his wife and two children, the boy, age ten and the girl, age fourteen. I felt like a light bulb just turned on—glowing and warm.
The gentleman began, “Danny. I want you to think of our home for the next two days as your home. Help yourself to anything you want in the fridge, turn on the TV and watch what you want and drink whatever is in my liquor cabinet whenever you want.” Then his wife took me upstairs and showed me where I would be sleeping in one of the guest rooms. It had its own bathroom and that was the first time I had ever been that close to a king-size bed. As I heard the children laughing downstairs, I had visions of sitting at their huge dining room table and eating turkey and plum pudding and even getting gifts. This was going to be a real Christmas for me. One I hadn’t had since I was a child.
This was not to be. I discovered the horrible truth as soon as I walked back into the foyer.

My host and his family where dressed for travel and as I looked to him for an answer, he said, “Danny. My family and I are visiting my parents a few hundred miles away this Christmas and we won’t be back until the second day after Christmas. I am grateful to you for coming over and house-sitting our home. With someone in the house while we are gone, there is less risk of vandals breaking in.”

I was totally devastated. I couldn’t believe what was happening to me. They were deserting me and submitting me to another Christmas of loneliness. At least in the past, I reduced some of the pain of loneliness by talking to the waitresses in a restaurant after ordering a turkey dinner. Now I couldn’t even do this.
As they put on their shoes, the children cheerfully wished me a merry Christmas and my host’s wife kissed me on my cheek and said softly, “You have a good time and remember, there is plenty of food in the fridge for you.” I tried to smile and finally managed to get one on my face, although my smile was as artificial as their friendship.

I saw them get into the car and then I closed the door behind me and stared at the door thinking that I had to be the biggest fool in town to think that that family or anyone else would care enough to adopt a lonely man for Christmas.

The hours went by as I watched movies after movies on TV and stuffed myself with food. As you may have guessed, there was no turkey or plum pudding in the fridge. I finally went to bed and to sleep to the sound of Christmas music coming from somewhere outside. Amongst all that splendor, this was the worst Christmas Eve of my life.

I awoke at about nine the next morning. I looked out the window.  It was sunny but judging from the way people on the street were bundled up, it must have been bitterly cold. I saw children playing next door as they laughed and played with their toboggan. I envied them. They had each other and their parents to share their Christmas with. I had no one.

I made myself some bacon and eggs and after breakfast, I pretended that the house was mine and that I was entertaining my guests who had come to visit me in my splendid home.

Just after eleven, I heard the chimes at the front door ring. Excitedly, I ran to the door to see who it was. Anyone would do. I opened it and standing before me was a family of four---two adults and two children. The four were each carrying shopping bags filled to the brims.  It wasn’t the family that had deserted me the day before. It was another family.

“Hello, Sir. I am Abraham Goldstein.”  “Damn!” I cursed myself for opening the door in the first place “Another Jew to harass me.” I had just previously worked for one and he fired me a month earlier and I was still bitter from that experience.

“What do you want?” I asked in a somewhat snarly voice.                

 He replied, “My family and I are stranded in our car which is a short way down the street.  It stopped suddenly and we can’t get it to go again.”

“Do you wish me to call for a tow truck?” I asked.
“I did it from a nearby pay phone.” He replied.
“Then why are you here?” I asked impatiently.
The man shuffled uneasily and then said, “The tow truck firm said it will be several hours before they get here and my children are cold and they have to go to the toilet. Could we stay in your house until the tow truck arrives?”
I don’t know if I didn’t want him and his family in the house for personal bigoted reasons or because I didn’t want anyone in a house that was not mine but in any case I grudgingly let them into the house and after they removed their shoes, I directed them to a doorway leading to the basement. Having prowled the house the night before, I knew that in the basement level there was a large family room and a bathroom adjoining it. They could stay down there and wait for the tow truck, I mused to myself.
As we walked down the stairs, I didn’t want the four of them to think that I was bigoted by not bringing them into the living room so I said, “I am house sitting this house for a friend and his family. I don’t think they will want anyone else in the house but I suppose they won’t mind if you wait in the family room downstairs. There is a washroom right next to it.”
“I understand.” replied the man. “We are grateful to you that you have permitted us to stay in the basement of this house out of the cold while we wait for the tow truck.” The rest of his family mouthed similar words of appreciation.

I deliberately removed the towels and face cloths from the washroom as I didn’t want them being soiled by anyone…at least I think that was the reason. In any case, I turned to the man and said, “Give me the phone number of the tow truck firm and I will tell him to meet you here.” He gave me the number and then I left them alone in the family room while I went upstairs to make the call.

As the hours went by, I heard them singing Christmas carols and other songs such as Jingle Bells and White Christmas. They were obviously having a marvelous time by themselves with their singing and laughing. I thought it odd that they were singing Christmas carols considering that they were Jews but I later learned why. I, on the other hand, while stretched out in the comfort of a large chesterfield in the living room with the fire in the huge hearth warming me up while I sipped brandy, ate cookies and watched TV, was still terribly alone. I resented the Jews in the basement. They were having too good a time and I had no one to share my Christmas with at all. At least they had each other whereas I had only myself—and I was bad company at that.

The tow truck driver eventually phoned and said that he would be there in about five minutes so I opened the basement door and yelled, “He’s here!” The family came up the stairs and walked into the foyer. As they put on their shoes, the man thanked me for my kindness and I relied, “Yeah, yeah.” as if to say, “Leave, will you?”
I wanted them to share some of the misery I was suffering so I said in a smooth sarcastic voice, “I’m sorry there were no towels for you to dry your hands on.”
 “Oh, that’s OK” chimed in one of the children. “We dried our hands on a white tablecloth in the family room.” The other child cut in, “Shh.”
 As soon as the four of them stepped outside, I slammed the door shut and bolted down the stairs to the basement and within seconds, I was in the family room and there on the small table was the white tablecloth the child spoke of; without a spot on it. But in the middle of it, was something wrapped in deep red cellophane. And on top of it was a piece of paper in which Abraham Goldstein had written;
 “I want to thank you on behalf of my family and myself for the kindness you showed us by inviting complete strangers into your home. We were in need and you were there for us. We are Jews for Jesus and we wanted to ask you to come downstairs and join us in our singing of Christmas carols and other music of the season but we decided against it because you appeared to be upset because of our unexpected arrival and intrusion into your privacy and we didn’t want to ruin your Christmas morning any more than we already had. As a token of our appreciation however, we have left you a small gift as we have more of this than we need. Again, our sincerest thanks.”
It was a plum pudding.
 Regretfully, I never met that family again.
The following year, I met a black friend I hadn’t seen for a while and during Christmas Eve; he invited me to his home for Christmas. I am Caucasian and I didn’t know how receptive his large family would be to me, with me coming over for Christmas as an unexpected guest.
 His family adopted me that Christmas and every Christmas after that for the next nine years until I married and had a family of my own to share my Christmas’ with.
 I learned a valuable lesson on that Christmas day so long ago, that day I received those four unexpected guests. That was the day that I had mistreated that beautiful family so miserably, a day in which I should have opened my heart to them instead of just the door to the basement. The lesson I learned was ----‘Loneliness is brought upon us entirely by ourselves because no one in this day and age should have to experience Christmas alone. We can always find someone to share it with—even if it is a homeless person or someone living alone, irrespective of that person’s religion, colour or standing in the community. Sharing our Christmas with others adds to the joy of the season.’

 By the way, despite my being alone that Christmas so many years ago, there was one bright spot during that occasion for me to fondly remember. The plum pudding left for me by my unexpected guests tasted so grand. 

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