Delighted to share this Guest Post from Tracey E. Meloni:
After a lifetime of moving as an Army Brat, Navy wife, and Federal drifter, I settled into my present home at the end of 2000. Looking for Christmas tree ornaments that first year, I came across a box labeled, “Somebody Stole My Boots.” It turned out to be the box of the best Christmas Past.
The winter I was 19, I was a newly married scholarship student in Boston University, making ends meet on $75 a week. My in-laws sent much-anticipated plane tickets so we could go home for a Connecticut country holiday, but Mother Nature intervened.
On Christmas Eve, monster snow not even Boston could overcome brought our plans to a halt. Christmas became an impromptu event, with an empty larder and equally empty wallets.
Down the hall lived friends Joe and Noni, another married student couple also stranded by weather and not much better supplied. We decided to pool our meager resources and make the best of things.
We took the then-MTA of Kingston Trio fame to the old farmers Haymarket (now a much trendier spot) and bought as many fresh, cheap veggies as we could carry just before the vendors went home.
We also bargained for a scruffy tree and dragged it onto the subway, laughing and waving at the conductor’s halfhearted warnings that no trees were allowed.
The engineering-student guys built a terrific tree stand. We trimmed the tree with popcorn, cranberries, and paper chains and installed it in the outside hallway for all to enjoy. Then we split up the cooking duties.
My mother had sent goodies from the venerable (now defunct) S.S. Pierce. Our Haymarket bounty was transformed into hearty vegetable soup, Delmonico potatoes, and what my husband called “painless beans,” the green bean-mushroom soup casserole. Joe and Noni defrosted their famous Bolognese sauce for Christmas Eve “SpagBog,” as the Brits call spaghetti Bolognese. We heard from two more stranded couples: one had a turkey, the other had cheese – and wine! Our Christmas feast seemed assured. We all arranged to meet for midnight services at a nearby church.
At church, our little band collected two more couples (fruit and rolls, guitar and flute) and we all trudged home to my building through deepening snow, feeling quite a contented glow.
A sad and ragged man armed with a sketchpad trailed behind us. We ignored him. Back at the apartment, my husband left his $10 boots in the outside hallway by the tree to dry out.
On Christmas morning, when we went to look at the tree, the boots were gone. We found a scrawled note following the cadence of The Little Drummer Boy: “Somebody Stole Your Boots, ta rup a tum tum.” Next to the note was propped a charcoal sketch, perfectly capturing us all, laughing as we walked home from Christmas Eve services – and oblivious to our portraitist.
Finding that note and the sketch brought memories flooding back. My coat was emerald green, even though it is shown in black and white. The images of my husband’s young and carefree face, and mine, make me smile – we did not know, when our unknown artist captured us, what horrors half a world away would derail our lives just a few months down the road. The charcoal, so hastily done, preserved our young innocence for all time.
Beyond that, the Christmas “Somebody Stole My Boots” taught me a most important lesson. Sometimes having no money is not a curse – it means you can’t blur spirit with commercialism. Still, even that year, I blindly overlooked someone much more needy than I, and will never forget the shame I felt that Christmas morning. Not only did Boot Man forgive our indifference – he rewarded it, and so perfectly.
Rediscovering the boot memory helped renew an old tradition in a new house. Once again, I’m putting out a modest pair of boots for needy Santas.
Tracey Edgerly Meloni won first prize in Ingenue Magazine’s short-story contest when she was 14 and just kept on writing. Her most recent award is a first place in feature writing from the Virginia Press Association. Formerly press secretary to three California Congressmen and Virginia’s senior Senator, she contributes regularly to several magazines, writing about food, health, the arts, and travel.