Day 28: The First Time I…
The first time I realized how good people can be happened in 1997.
I had recently started a new job and a new life. My divorce was final in August of that year; I had two young daughters and myself to support. This “new” situation didn’t feel much like life to me at that point in time.
My new job would offer support, insurance and hope for my little family. I worked as a fuel systems operator in an engine factory one town away. My work days began at 5 A.M.and ended about 8 or 10 hours later; the worrying usually started once I got home.
I worried about whether or not my daughters and I would have enough money; I worried about them visiting their dads; I worried about them getting to and from school ok (I had to be at work before they had to leave for school and daycare; and I worried about what would happen to me. When my new job started, there were two months left until Christmas…
The Holidays weren’t such a big deal for me; they never were. But I wondered how this particular season would feel with my new life and all. I missed my husband, missed my mom (she died 4 years earlier) and missed the life I thought I had and the life I thought I would have. Nothing seemed to be certain anymore.
I found out in November that the factory I worked in had almost 2 weeks off during Christmas and into the New Year. This was a blessing: I could spend time with my daughters, get some housework finished and try to relax and de-stress some. I found out a few days later that this was not a paid holiday for “temps”. I was a temp. Another worry…
My dad said that he would try to help during the unpaid holiday time. He could get meals and help for us at his church, and he offered to buy presents for the girls – there wouldn’t be much, but he was willing to get “a few things” for them. I thanked my dad and wondered what my daughter’s fathers would do for them. My most important goal was getting to work on time and keeping it together.
The coldest weather of the season hit that year before Christmas and I was grateful to have a warm home and a warm job. I thought about some of the other people who were in my circumstances. Sometimes these thoughts offered me a little relief. I was still wondering what would happen when Christmas did come; maybe gifts were the least to be worried about. What would it be like with “just us”; how would my daughters feel?
Our last day at the factory was more fun than work; it seemed that we had one “Christmas dinner” after another. Some of my co-worker’s drove me around the factory to every mini-feast they knew of; they pulled out plastic containers and foil they had accumulated and told me to fill up. Each department seemed to know I was coming; some of them had containers of food they had cooked already filled for me. The day was actually festive and I forgot about my circumstances for a little while. I felt surrounded by family.
All the departments in the factory got longer lunch-times. After our department’s feast, we sat around languishing in our “extra-long lunch”. A little while later, a few of the “old-timers” in our area – people I knew to be working on their 30th anniversary’s with the company – all walked out of the Christmas lunch area we’d set up. I asked one of the other temps what was going on. He said that maybe we “ran them off”. I said, “Yeah, sure, thanks, dummy!” We relaxed while we waited – and wondered – what may be going on.
Two of my “favorites” came back – Pat and John. They and the other “oldies” were each carrying three or four Christmas presents, and even our manager and team leaders seemed to be in on this “surprise”! These “presents” were all for us temporaries; we each got at least two gifts, and I even had two presents for each of my daughters now! The gifts even had name tags and we all got Christmas cards, too. I couldn’t help being completely blown away. It turned out that my friend Pat had picked out most of the presents. One of the temps told Pat that I had two small daughters. Another temporary also told Pat that I was recently divorced and just getting by. Really, we all were, “just getting by”.
I thanked (and bear-hugged) all of them; I was so grateful and felt so loved that none of my circumstances seemed to matter at that time. The oldies group looked so pleased – and proud – and told me they wouldn’t have had it any other way. I heard later that this department wasn’t the only area of the factory doing things like this. My experience was happening all over the plant that day: from the food-gathering drives to all the “feasts” and this present-giving – it was all planned for us.
About an hour before we left that day, and as we said our “goodbyes ‘til next year”, Pat handed me an envelope. I looked up to see the rest of my department watching from behind their machines. Inside the envelope was $367.00 – enough for the unpaid 2 weeks! I could only stand there. It seems that this was their “last surprise” for us; all three temps got “their pay”, enough to cover the time off for the holidays. I don’t think any of us knew what to do or say. Many of the “oldies” had small tears forming in their eyes.
For me, although still sad and uncertain, this was the warmest of any Christmas I’d ever had. People that weren’t even related to me had cared for me more than many I’d recently considered family. I learned that anyone can be “family”, and that love and care can come in any form.
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