Dr. John Young                                              Unitarian Universalist Church of Jacksonville

12/24/06

 

 

Christmas Eve Service

 

A Jacksonville Christmas Carol

by John Young

 

            It was 6 a.m. on Christmas Eve, and Betty Bossy, the Owner of Get Yours Mall, was arguing with her employees. “I have only made one million dollars this month. What is wrong with you people? I give you 2 hours to attend church, twice a week, willingly pay minimum wage, and you each have unlimited free parking in the back of my lot. People are vulnerable at holiday times, and we need to take more advantage of them. Make them feel guilty, if they don’t buy a lot. Get them to max out on their credit cards. Lie to them about how much everybody else is buying. We need to get their money before some of those jerks in the big malls get part of my profits. Make those foreigners feel they have to spend all their money in order to become real Americans. Make it clear that you wonder if poor people will buy any nice things for their families. Worship anybody that looks rich. Become their slaves.”

 

            After all this angry shouting, Karen Cringe, who was a clerk in Ms. Bossy’s Shirt- Off-Your-Back Short Term Loans, the best money maker in the mall, wondered whether she dare ask the question she  had promised her children she would ask. Finally, she got up her courage: “Ms. Bossy, may I stay home with my children on Christmas Day?” There was a wall of silence. “What, you don’t want to be here to service the customers when they come in broke and want us to bail them out needing to sell their car or bring back most of their presents?”  “It’s going to be hard to get a sitter on Christmas Day, and I promised Fragile Fred and Rebecca, Jr., I would ask you.” Karen Cringe was popular among the other employees in the stores at Bossy’s Mall; so, Betty Bossy decided she better be diplomatic. “Well, you can have the day hours off, but I want you back in here to service those desperate people on Christmas evening. We need to get their money.” “Thank you, Ms. Bossy, and a Merry Christmas to you!” “Ha! Holidays are for suckers and stupids,” Bossy sneered.

 

            Betty Bossy went stamping back to her office in the tower that overlooked the central courtyard of the Mall on one wall, and the parking lot on the other. Glorious Day, her hard-working, long-time assistant was waiting for her. “Your daughter is in your office Ms. Bossy. She’s been waiting about a half hour.” “Well, I wonder what she wants, probably trying to borrow money, or butter me up to give those useless grandchildren presents they don’t need. I’ll set her straight.” Bossy marched into her office. “Hello, Samantha, what brings you clear in here from Ponte Vedre?” “Good morning, mother, I’m here to invite you to dinner on Christmas Day. Jason and Kelly certainly hope that you will join us to celebrate the holidays, and Bob would love to show you his rose garden. It’s still looking fabulous this winter.” “Well, I doubt if I will have the time. I need to make some end-of-the-year fund transfers to my offshore accounts so the government doesn’t get all my hard-earned money. Is that no-good father of yours going to show his miserable face?” “Mother, show a bit of kindness, you know Dad is dying, and he has been strapped since you got everything in the settlement.” “I’ll only show up after he has left. You know I can’t stand being in the same room with him.” “Well, then, why don’t you come after 2 pm, and I’ll have Dad come over for breakfast and stay until 1 or so, that way he can enjoy seeing his grandchildren open all the presents he’s gotten them.” “Well, there you go again, he doesn’t have any money, but he has enough to buy your spoiled kids a bunch more presents. They certainly haven’t fallen far from the tree.” “Mother, I came here in person because I am determined to remain calm. We hope you will come, and we all wish you happy holidays. Good bye, mother. I am determined to remember your many fine qualities. We love you, and we want to see you soon at our home.” Samantha gave her mother a quick hug and left. Betty Bossy felt a pang of disappointment. She had let her daughter get under her thick skin again.

 

            Bossy worked hard all day. She gave those illegal immigrants doing the janitorial work a talking to so they understood that they were very lucky to be working at all. She worked with the accountants so that most of her profits could be hidden or fudged. Two jolly fellows came along from the Rotary Club to ask her for a donation for the homeless shelter and the women’s domestic abuse shelter, and she straightened them out. “If a woman can’t stand up for herself, I am not going to excuse her weakness, and those freeloaders always expecting a hand-out. Why have children at all, if you don’t have the money to raise them properly? Besides, I already made my pledge to the United Way. You are wasting your time and mine, gentlemen.”

 

            She got in her Hummer and headed home to her Ortega mansion thinking about the wonders of the microwave oven with its frozen gourmet dinners and her plasma television. But as she opened her garage with the remote, Betty Bossy got a shock because there was a ghost standing waiting for her. It was her late father, Big Bart Bossy! He got into the car as she turned off the engine. He did not even open the door; he just slipped in. He had an old computer on his back and a safe on his lap.

“Hello, Betty. It’s been a long time. How are you?” “Jeez, Dad, you look awful.” “Well, I’ve been dead three years, and I never had time to understand how most people felt or lived while I was alive; so, that is what I need to do now, just wander around seeing what the world is really about. That’s why I am here, Betty. You are my only child, and you are going down the same road I went down: money and power at any price. It’s making you richer, but it is not making you happier, and I wanted you to see where living that way got me. I have arranged for you to be visited by Christmas past, present, and future. If you learn from them maybe you can be spared the agony I had in my life, and I am having now in my death.” Then her father’s ghost was gone as quickly as he had appeared. Betty felt cold and scared. That was the worst nightmare she had had for years, and she had not even been asleep.

 

            She sat staring out at the river while she quieted down. Finally, she got up and warmed up her dinner and turned on her huge screen and massive media system that filled the whole back wall. But instead of her favorite conservative talk show host, there was another ghost on the screen. “I am the ghost of Christmas past, she said. It was the African-American woman that had been her nanny after her mother had died. Her father had always treated Hazel badly, and so, Betty, too, had learned to put her down and disobey her, even though Hazel had always been loving and patient with her as she grew up. Hazel’s ghost now took Betty around the Jacksonville of her youth. She had never seen how miserable most of the African-American community was: poor and segregated. She saw her old teachers at the Episcopal private school for girls, and how she had gotten her father to get one teacher fired who had caught her smoking and punished her for breaking the rules. She saw her own daughter and husband when they were a young, happy family, and she realized how often she had made her husband crawl because he was his father-in-law’s employee and dependent upon his wife’s money and prominent name. She watched as her daughter tried, again and again, to get her mother’s attention, but Betty was too busy showing that she could run her father’s Mall better than he ever had and making more money than any of her friends. She watched herself last Christmas crying in her big house alone.

 

            Then, suddenly she was back in her room in the present alone, but only for a moment, and then, here was another ghost, like an oversize Salvation Army bell ringer in a Santa suit. “I am the ghost of Christmas present. Step on my sleigh. This ghost looked jolly, but he was intimidating so she got on the sleigh without a word. They flew away into the air. They landed first at the home of the children of her old nanny, Hazel. “You remember that nasty white girl Momma used to spend all day and night with, the one young man said to the other. She gave her heart to that spoiled brat, said she felt sorry for her, and they just threw Momma out once she got sick and the girl got old enough to manage on her own. I think it broke Momma’s heart.” Then, they were at another shack like house where she had never been. It was the home of Glorious Day, her office assistant.  Glorious was cooking up a storm and singing like a choir with her family around her. What was she singing? “I’ve got the meanest boss in all of Jacksonville, she cheats folks just for sport, and treats her help like dirt, but it is Christmas time, so I will bless her too. For everyone’s a child of God, although some’s sure lost their way.”

 

            The next stop on this incredible journey was the trailer home of Karen Cringe and her children Fred and Rebecca. Fred was nicknamed Fragile Fred because he had diabetes and had to take insulin shots all the time and had asthma too because they lived close to a chemical factory. Despite his illnesses, Fred was full of joy and exuberance. He would run and dance around, and then, fall down exhausted and laugh almost til every one cried. Rebecca was the serious older sister, worried about her mother who constantly looked haggard and stressed. “Well, children, you are going to have to stay by yourselves on Christmas day evening, because Ms. Bossy needs me to go back into work, but the job means that we can pay for Fred’s medicines most of the time, and you can each expect one present, besides your new shoes and outfit for the year.” The last stop was at Betty Bossy’s daughter’s home in Ponte Vedre. Her husband asked, “Well, is your mother going to accept our invitation this year or not?” “I hope she will come. I have worked out with Dad to come earlier and be gone by the time she can arrive, if she chooses.” The children came in from playing outdoors. “Grandma Bossy is actually going to visit us? Wow, Mom, you are a miracle worker.” “Well, we’ll see how it goes, if she actually decides to get here. Sometimes, I wonder how I grew up so normal with the mother I have. Guess Dad, bless him, had a lot to do with that, and now life is once again giving him the short end of the stick.”

 

Betty Bossy was once again alone back in her palatial living room by the river in Ortega. Suddenly, it felt like a hard freeze had come, and there was a new ghost who seemed to be the grim reaper, but she was an aged vamp in a ballroom gown.  She did not speak but simply grabbed hold of Betty with an icy, bony hand. They stood in a grave yard. Her ex-husband had died, and there were an amazing group of people there, and they seemed so broken up about his death. Then, they were at the funeral in Bethel Baptist Church for Glorious Day, struck by a Hummer as she got off the bus to work. Then, they were back in the home of Karen Cringe. Fragile Fred had died because no one had been at home when he had gone into insulin shock. Finally, she stood at her own graveside ceremony. Only her daughter and one grandchild were there, distant, simply doing their duty.

 

Betty Bossy did not know afterwards whether it had all been a fantastic bad dream, or the most important evening in her life, but it certainly changed her. She slept better afterwards that she had slept in years. When she awoke on Christmas morning, she got on her cell phone and found a caterer who was working and sent a feast to every one of her employees, and to Hazel’s family, and she did twice a year thereafter. She started volunteering on the Board of the homeless shelter and the women’s shelter, and went and served food at both places so that she actually made friends with some of their residents. She changed her finances so her ex-husband was properly taken care of in his last years, and they became friends again, and enjoyed their grandchildren together. Of course, she went to Christmas dinner at her daughter’s but she also showed up late for breakfast too after she had done all these other things, and she sat down on the floor and played with her grandchildren and talked like old times with her ex-husband and her daughter. They could not believe it. She actually became to learn about her son-in-law’s garden, and began doing her own gardening again.

 She was still a very successful business leader, but she found that she could do well in about half the time and still pay her employees properly, provide them with health insurance, and proper pensions. She began to spend almost half of her great energy on nurturing a community of love. She became an honorary grandmother for Fragile Freddy, and he is becoming a doctor himself now, and his big sister is a college professor. You know, Betty Bossy even changed the name of her Mall to Share the Wealth Mall. She also changed her views on religion and politics, and joined this Unitarian Universalist Church of Jacksonville, where she made many life-time friends and became a model of integrity and generosity.