One day, while working my part-time job at the Elwood Public Library, Margie Steiner, an adult librarian, called me over from shelving books and introduced me to a gentleman by saying, “Well, this is Red and Donna Barmes’ grandson, Darin.”
The man proceeded to tell me how, each Christmas morning, there was always a box of food for Christmas dinner, along with a large box of presents for the entire family, left on their front porch. Due to the dad’s illness, they had struggled financially but always had a wonderful Christmas day.
When he was a teenager he decided to stay up all night to watch for the mystery Santa. Finally, a car came down the street around 3:00 AM, parked halfway down the block. A tall, bulky figure and a tinier figure got out of the automobile, took two boxes from the trunk, and set them on the front porch.
Several years later, having kept watch for Santa and Mrs. Santa, he approached my grandfather on duty as a police officer and said he was aware what my grandparents had been doing for his family. He said “your granddad looked at me and said, ‘Son, you didn’t see anything and even what you think you saw is never to be discussed.'”
With that, my grandpa winked and asked about his family.
The story did not surprise me in the least because my grandparents had always been generous with family and friends, and especially with Mother and us three children after we were abandoned by our father.
One December night, a year or so after learning about my grandparents Christmas morning drop-offs, something woke me. I went downstairs and Mother was wrapping presents at the dining room table. I noticed that none of the gifts were age appropriate for my younger siblings and asked about the gifts.
“We’ll talk about it later.” (Hmmm… that was not a typical response from Mother.)
“Are these for needy families?”
Mother ignored my question.
“You know, Grandma and Grandpa used to take…” Mother stopped, looked at me, and asked, “How do you know this?” I told her of the guy I met at the library.
All Mother said was, “That’s interesting. You need to go back to bed.” (WTH? and another Hmmmm? I don’t know that Mother ever had to tell me to go to bed, even as a little peep – I was THAT kid.)
A little later, I heard the back door open and heard the red and black Pinto Pony start up. I went to my side window and saw Mother turn off of Ninth Street onto Main Street, disappearing into the winter’s night.
My younger sister and brother, Dena and Destin, were also instilled with this generational service and have been a blessing to so many others for their quiet or corporate good deeds when a team effort is required.
My brother was a giant in his adopted town of Fowler, Indiana where he was an educator, administrator, member of multiple boards, and the Tom Sawyer that corralled others to “grab a paint brush” and help out others.
Even through the darkest days prior to his death, Destin still reached out with his genuine servant’s hands to assist others. We’ll probably never know the depth of his generosity to his family, friends, and the communities of Elwood and Fowler, Indiana.
If you need a cook/baker for the masses, my sister, Dena, is the Julia Child and Martha Stewart of the kitchen with the ability to feed an entire crew on a naval aircraft carrier with seconds available for everyone.
As we were well into our adult years and raising our own children, our dinners at 927 South A Street were not just limited to our biological or adoptive family members. Anyone who sat down to join us for any meal was considered family. It was nothing to have 25+ (up to 40+) folks for Christmas Eve breakfast, Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas morning breakfast, Thanksgiving, and every celebratory event.
The best part, always, was having on-duty police officers joining us for these meals. My grandfather began his career at the Elwood Police Department in 1952 and Mother in 1981-2012. Our hometown officers were bonus-uncles, their families our bonus aunts and cousins.
My sister and her husband own The Sparky’s Dog House in Mount Summit, Indiana. I don’t know how many times throughout the early stages of the pandemic, folks could drive by for pints of free soup, every Friday, until the soup ran out. I know there have been many other food offerings to anyone hungry, but I find this admirable and a terrific way to support the people throughout the community and entire area, and not just Sparky’s regular customers.
We grew up, not feeling poor, but feeling blessed and confident we were capable of doing anything. I am proud to see how our ancestors’ legacy is still a continuing part of our family, upholding a commitment to being of service to others. I am especially proud of my siblings’ contributions to their worlds.
It really is a beautiful thing.
The summer of 2019, as I spent the last few weeks with Mother prior to her death, I asked if she remembered that winter night I came downstairs to find her wrapping packages.
“No, I don’t because it never happened.”
Yeh, right! One of Mother’s most beloved police department events was Shop With A Cop. It was near and dear to her heart.