I don’t know how many times I’ve reprinted this story I first wrote almost 40 years ago. It is a memory I have, not just of my father (who passed two Christmases ago) and how we were raised in our little farming community, but the lessons I learned about the power of giving.

Scoop and Roy

I remember gathering at my uncle’s farmstead for Christmas maybe 55 years ago. It was one of my favorite places because his house was built at the end of a long lane at the bottom of a heavily wooded hill where my brother and I could spend hours sledding, building snow forts and exploring what we were sure were Indian mounds.

My grandmother’s side of the family, seven brothers and sisters and all of their families, had gathered and the house was filled with people, cookies and candies too numerous to count and a kitchen emitting the smells of the season; turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie.

As usual I was anxious to eat and get on with an afternoon in the woods, coming in occasionally to warm up and watch my great uncles play pepper and…well…drink.

But I knew dinner would be late. Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners were always late and my dad was always to blame. About a half hour before everyone was ready to eat, he would disappear and show up 45 minutes later, apologizing to my grandmother and avoiding the glare of whichever aunt was serving as hostess.

For some reason I decided to put an end to this imposition and demanded to know why he was going to make me wait for Christmas dinner. I caught a quick look from my father that warned me that my tone was close to stepping over the line, and then his look softened. “Come with me, Dave,” he said.

The first thing I discovered was that my father didn’t leave the house empty-handed. He worked like a thief in the night, filling two large trays with the first and best portions of the food prepared for the family dinner. My mother helped him cover each tray with tin foil, he motioned with his head for me to open the door and then we headed out to the car.

“Where we goin’, Dad?” I asked as the car rolled through the snow-covered lane and turned left toward our small town.

“We’re going to wish Scoop and Roy a Merry Christmas,” he said.

I was quiet as we turned down the two-block main street of town, headed past the grocery store, the tavern, drug store and American Legion Hall, turned again and drove behind the buildings we had just passed. The car stopped at a tiny, one-room tarpaper shack.

“This is Scoop’s home,” he said.

I shadowed my father as he went up to the door and knocked. Scoop Hoover came to the door and we went inside. The smell was something I had never experienced and I had never seen a room as dank and dark as the room which was Scoop’s entire home. There was a broken down bed on one side piled with dirty blankets, a small wood stove and a floor cluttered with papers, old clothes and liquor bottles.

Scoop was the town drunk. I don’t know how old he was. Maybe 40, maybe 100. His eyes were bleary and as he talked to my father I don’t know if he was crying or still hung over.

My dad gave him the food, Scoop thanked him and patted me on the head. We wished him Merry Christmas and headed out the door. I don’t recall asking my father any more about Scoop. Scoop needed no explanation at the point.

We drove to the other side of town, a trip of about a half dozen blocks, and up a hill to another shanty, this one covered gray shingles.

We went to the door with the second tray of food and a little round man wearing bib overalls and a frayed cap came to the door. “Merry Christmas, Roy,” my father said with a smile. “You ready to eat?”

I can’t remember if Roy had a problem with alcohol or not. His shack didn’t seem quite as dreary as Scoop’s. Back then people called folks like Roy, “derelicts.” My dad told me once that Roy just wasn’t as smart as other folks. Dad set the tray down on a grubby little table and Roy shook his hand until I wondered if he’d ever let go.

We drove back to my uncle’s home and my dad whistled between answering questions I fired at him about Roy and Scoop. The one question I never asked my dad, though, was “Why?” Why feed a drunk and a derelict the best part of our Christmas dinner and make the rest of the family wait and eat cold mashed potatoes?

I never asked because I knew the answer. My dad couldn’t feed the world and he couldn’t give Roy a brain or stop Scoop from drinking, but he could offer a little hope and a little kindness to two otherwise hopeless men. It was much later that I learned Dad had helped Roy and Scoop often throughout the years, getting Scoop into the county home, even helping with Roy’s funeral.

But my father’s act of utter humility and kindness that Christmas etched the first and most lasting meaning of Christmas in my memory.

We got back to uncle’s house, entered in and Dad apologized to Grandma for being late and ducked the glare from one of my aunts. He put his arm around my mother, gave me a wink and said, “What’s the hold up? Isn’t anybody hungry?”

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