This is a story of one town’s Christmas blueprint – not ordinary blueprints of homes or offices or buildings. Instead, this is a people story – people with hearts and souls and struggles, yet they have gifts for their neighbors. Here a Town called Comfort shares its blueprint for keeping Christmas joy past December and all year.
Our setting is a tiny, rural Southern Town, not unlike other small towns dotting the rural South – tiny . . . poor . . . and struggling. The downtown traffic circles a “Square”. The center features a majestic, burnished bronze statue of an unknown soldier, atop a five foot marble platform. He rises high above the crowd, erect, his rifle cradled at his side, in both hands. Comfort’s soldier is poised for battle. He stands in the Square, constantly watching, guarding the Town.
Around the square, are Comfort’s service establishments – a bank, a hardware store, a dry cleaner, a furniture store, the “7-11″ convenience store, etc. Down another street you see the tiny Post Office, silhouetted by the morning sun. Lately most people avoid it because mostly bills come in the mail, bills that can’t get paid. Most of Comfort’s businesses are almost silent now, having very few customers lately. They’re nearly lifeless, as if putting up the final struggle against dying. They stand as monuments of the past and for the future-bowed . . . scarcely noticed, but unbroken, not yet finished. They bravely stand against time awaiting new life.
Like so many other small towns, the means of earning a living are scarce. Comfort’s residents are either small family farmers, or employees of the big commercial farms just outside Town, or employees in the one textile mill that hasn’t moved overseas. The remaining sprinkling of residents include a few teachers, four preachers – one Baptist, one Methodist, one white and one black for each denomination; the shop owners-the hardware store, the farm supply store, the Chevrolet car dealer, the dry cleaner owner, the grocery store owner, and the furniture store owner. You also have other professionals – a banker, a doctor, a lawyer, a dentist, the Town librarian, the Town Clerk and the “high” Sheriff are sprinkled in.
Because Comfort is so small, everyone knows everybody else. Everyone has been a part of the “boom” and “bustle”, or the slow down or ‘bust’ that characterizes any Town with any kind of history. Now in 2011, the town of Comfort was in a cycle of very slowly, painstakingly clawing and crawling back from a near fatal bust.
Now another Christmas is approaching -it weighs heavily on the minds and hearts of Comfort’s residents. They all have heard the hype and know the holiday expectations. Everyone knows it’s supposed to be a time of joy and happiness. It’s a time when families that barely spoke to one another all year, get together and try to be happy; try to be civil. It’s a time when sparkling wrappings, and big-boxed presents and bright lights and cheerful songs have a certain air; they almost compel happiness, or pretending to be. But it’s not so for most of Comfort’s residents.
The last few Christmases, people did not even have gifts for one another. Except for the children of the Professionals and the shop owners, not one other child in Comfort received any Christmas presents. The older children were aware of the reasons for their bleak Christmases; but the littlest were not. They had no concept of how an “economic downturn” rivaling the Great Depression of the 30’s affects “Santa Claus”. They did not know how hard their parents struggled to stave off the money changers of Wall Street, hang onto the roof over their heads and keep a little food in the belly. Even so, their parents’ hearts burst and shattered into tiny pieces when they saw the disappointment written across their babies faces. Late into the lonely nights, many parents cried silent, hidden tears over the past years.
Even so, the parents felt blessed to still have home for their families, a little heat during the winter’s cold, and some semblance of food on the table, even if it was bought with food stamps. Comfort’s people were hard working folk; they were passionately proud to provide for their families and not live off government handouts. Hard time or not, it had been extremely difficult for the residents to seek help. It had devastated them emotionally to use the government assistance.
But Christmas was coming again, and some people hoped to have a little easier time this winter. A small sliver of hope had made its way across the sky in Comfort. The big Commercial farm and the textile mill had hired a number of the Town’s unemployed back in the fall. With the wages, many families were able to buy a few extra groceries and “splurge” a bit: fresh fruit, cake mixes, and fresh milk as opposed to powdered or evaporated. Some of the ladies and girls bought some “new” things at Goodwill in the next town; some even bought a new outfit from Wal-Mart. Some of the men bought bottles of “fancy” beer, such as Becks, Moosehead, or Heineken. But everyone, except a few in Comfort knew that difficult times were still ahead. Mortgages and homes and lives were still in disarray.
But unbeknownst to them they were about to get a unique helping hand. They will all get help in their own recovery and also in keeping the true Christmas spirit alive throughout the year. It was all the idea of Cy and Tammy, the owners of the town’s only restaurant, the Fireside Chat diner. They both grew up in Comfort, and attended school there. Tammy was two years older than Cy and had actually paid little attention to him in school. On the other hand Cy had carried a torch for Tammy for many years but he never approached her. He actually had given up hope of spending time with her when she left for State College and he stayed behind to attend Community College and run the family farm. She returned to care for her ailing parents and to teach Home Economics at the local high school because she felt strongly about the residents being as self-sufficient as possible. Their paths crossed when the school began buying milk and vegetables from Cy’s farm. They hit it off immediately and soon became an item about town. When they got married, they threw a town-wide picnic so everyone in Comfort could enjoy the moment like a big family. After several years of marriage, and with a small inheritance from her parents, they bought the Fireside Chat diner and continued to live in Comfort.
Thus, they became the third generation of owners of the Fireside Chat. They loved Comfort. They had seen their own good times and lean times, as well as the misery of their friends. There were times that they had seen their diner so crowded that people had to wait outside, on the church benches under the trees, and on the wraparound porch. Lately they had also seen many days with no customers. Lately just the two of them sat in front of the fireplace looking at each other, and enjoying the fire’s warmth instead of visits and conversations with their friends. Then for no apparent reason, they would get a steady trickle of customers, for which they felt blessed. They knew all too well the ebb and flow of Comfort. This is why they wanted to lead the way to everyone getting involved to help each other and to receive help and in turn.
Tammy and Cy went to the owners of the big commercial farms and the textile mill to pitch a unique proposal. They asked them to donate one meat, one starch, one vegetable and one dessert for a town wide pot luck dinner beginning in November, for Thanksgiving. They were counting on the corporate leaders realizing that if their employees and families are well fed, the employee would make a better worker. They also hoped they realized that if Comfort’s residents knew of their generosity, they would enjoy tremendous goodwill. So the corporate owners did donate.
Tammy and Cy planned to invite everyone in Town to come and enjoy a Town-wide potluck dinner on Thanksgiving. No one left out; no one without a Thanksgiving meal; no one would be alone on “turkey day”. They called and invited everyone to come to the dinner, and bring a dish if they wanted. People who were not home received a visit from either, Tammy or Cy. Those with a transportation problem were promised a ride. And neighbors were encouraged to call residents that needed extra persuasion.
During the invite, they told their listeners they had a pleasant surprise for them. They believed that if everyone was looking for a surprise and expecting something good, no one would stay home and run the risk of missing out. But no-one knew anything of the surprise in store for them during the dinner. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. Curiosity drew many of the town folk to stop in, have a bite to eat, and chew the fat by the fire with Cy and Tammy . . . “just because”. But Cy and Tammy steadfastly refused revelation, although good heartedly. They would not reveal their surprise until the potluck supper.
At the banquet, they placed two tablet sized pieces of paper at each seat. The residents were to write a list of their needs on one of the sheets, the most critical needs first. On the other sheet they were to list any help, supplies or skills they could extend their neighbors. Cy and Tammy would collect the lists and in private separate the two.
For the Town’s Christmas potluck supper, Cy and Tammy would be draw a name from the hat and would match that name with persons who listed skills, help or supplies that could help their neighbor. Tammy and Cy would place little gift boxes at each guest’s place, and the two families that had been paired would find their indicator names in the gift boxes. During the “mixer” after dinner, if the two families wanted to announce that they were the first families of the Christmas blueprint, they could make that choice. Tammy and Cy believed that if everyone were opening up about their particular needs, they would not feel alone or ashamed that they needed help. On the other hand if the town’s folk felt they were helping their neighbor, the help they received wasn’t charity: it was just neighbor helping neighbor.
The Christmas “blueprint” for continuously helping one another was mapped out by Cy and Tammy. The next “giver-receiver” match would be chosen for the New Year’s Day potluck dinner. Cy and Tammy believed that it would be very encouraging to the Town to have this good will and positive activity lead off the year. Further matches would be made for February 14th, Valentine’s Day; in March for the beginning of Spring; in April for Easter or”Spring Sprucing”; in May for Mother’s Day; in June for Father’s Day; and in July for the Fourth of July town picnic.
Cy and Tammy did not know of any official holiday in August for the Christmas blueprint activity. So they decided to make it a contest and involve everyone in naming the August day. They would collect names from January to June; in July everybody in Town would vote on the name and thus they would have their, August name, for their Christmas blueprint. The unique thing about the month of August is that it could change each year; it could be a time of refreshing the Christmas blueprint. August would then take them into the remainder of the year.
Of course the Christmas blueprint holiday for September is Labor Day, and in October its Halloween’s treat, then back to Thanksgiving and back around to Christmas. It was the plan of Cy and Tammy to keep the Christmas blueprint alive and ongoing until everyone in the Town of Comfort had been helped and lifted up. Their desire was to put everyone in Comfort on a path of improvement and moving forward. They wanted the Town of Comfort to live up to its name and for the Christmas spirit, of giving, of caring, of sharing and helping to be acted upon everyday in Comfort.
Comfort has a Christmas blueprint for the world!
Copyright -Alfreda Williamson © November 30, 2011