Southern Christmas

As a reporter covering the social services beat in suburban Atlanta, I wrote about Meals On Wheels needing drivers, the local battered women’s shelter in desperate need of a new roof, and efforts to gather up basic school supplies each Fall for disadvantaged children. I saw the need and I saw the frustration in the eyes of social workers who were desperately trying to fill that need with dwindling resources while working in the sometimes emotionless environment of some government services agency.

Pretty depressing stuff, when witnessed every day at the street level. The upside, and a grasp on the emotions, was the sense of accomplishment when an article would inspire someone to deliver those lunches, pay for a new roof or buy some Hello Kitty back packs. Christmas would be the one time of the year where everything came together and my faith in humanity blossomed as the spirit of giving poured forth from the community.

Complete strangers played Santa Claus as they bought toys for children known only to their parents and the Marines. Turkeys were donated and local food pantry charities finally had the provisions needed so the Tiny Tims and Bob Cratchits could have a proper meal at Christmas. It warmed my heart to see my community get so involved.

Much of the Yuletide donations are focused on children for one obvious reason: This is Santa’s time to shine and no child should miss out on a toy at Christmas because her parents lack the resources. Foster children especially tug at the heart strings. Many of them never see Christmas in the same home two years in a row.

The U.S. Marine’s “Toys For Tots” campaign does a tremendous job helping out Santa, and sadly, they never have enough toys to meet the need. This year, a new phenomenon has emerged of people secretly paying off the K-Mart and Walmart toy layaway tabs of low-income families. Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

For five years, I saw it all: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Yes, there is bad and there is ugly in how our government and our society treats those in need. The bad is government programs that fall woefully short in providing basic services and subsistence-level income. The ugly is the way Americans disrespect, disenfranchise and dismiss our elderly.

They have Social Security, they have Medicare, they have senior centers and handicap-capable buses to transport them to their medical care. What so many of them do not have is enough disposable income to cover the co-payment for their prescription drugs. (Maybe we need a “Meds for Granny” campaign next Christmas.) What many of them do not have is someone, besides their ancient cat, to wish them a Merry Christmas.

Many other societies around the world actually honor and respect their elders. Their seniors are seen as the source of much wisdom and and revered for their traditions. We, on the other hand, have abandoned our elderly mothers in airport concourses, stuffed them away in nursing homes or hired someone to look after them – all in an effort to keep the old folks from affecting our life style.

Most of our senior citizens will spend this Christmas surrounded by loving family members. Some will not even know what day it is as they waste away in some elder care facility. A few will become the objects of road rage because they took too long after the light changed. Why the hurry? December 25th will be just like any other day, only filled with bittersweet memories of Christmases past.

If you know a senior citizen who has no family, take a few minutes out of your busy Christmas this year and drop by. Maybe bring a tin of cookies and an honest intent to spend a little time with them. Who knows, you too may pass this way.

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Copyright © 2011 by Doug Couch. All Rights Reserved.  Photo: © Copyright by Chris Downer and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons License.
Doug Couch

Doug Couch

I like to tell folks that I was born in Georgia because I wanted to be close to my mother. I feel blessed to have been born and raised in the deep South where we have the best food, the best college football, and rich traditions. I got my sense of humor from my father and my proclivity for writing from my mother, an author of children's books. I enjoy writing about the funny side of life in the South and I am not above a bit of irreverence as long as it doesn't perpetuate negative Southern stereotypes. We Southerners enjoy a good story, and I remain determined to write one some day.

I have been in and out of the newspaper business since my early college days while following a parallel career in information technology. I am a big fan of Atlanta Falcons football, BBQ, Maker's Mark, all forms of automobile racing, flying (private, not commercial) and shooting sports.

Life has become immeasurably better since I have been forced to stop taking it seriously. ― Hunter S. Thompson