Sunday, December 19, 2010

Too Good to Be True (or Free) by Sharon Lurie

© 2001 David’s Harp and Pen

Mood: Festive, Though Slightly Scrooge-y


This blog is based, in part, upon actual events and people. Certain actions and characters have been dramatized and fictionalized, but are inspired by true events and real people. Certain other characters, events, and names used herein are entirely fictitious. Any similarity of those fictional characters or events to the name, attributes, or background of any real person, living or dead, or to any actual events is coincidental and unintentional, so I better not hear from non-profit Christian music radio stations, cemeteries, divorcees, or Methodist churches. When someone’s had as many macabre holidays as I have, one is entitled to a “ba, humbug” every now and then.

“…Yes, folks, you just heard Amy Grant’s lovely rendition of ‘O, Little Town of Bethlehem,’ and you all know what that means—yes! It’s the start of WWJD’s annual 12 Days of Christmas, where your friends here at listener supported Christian radio play the best Christmas music from your favorite Christian artists nonstop! Of course, none of this would be possible without your generous support, and since this is the season of giving, why not consider making a financial gift to keep this vital ministry going?”

Lucy groaned as she hit the snooze bar on her alarm clock, then rolled back over in bed, pulling the covers over her head. “How can those DJs sound so cheery at 6 in the morning?” she mumbled to herself, “and how did Christmas get to be coming up so soon? Wasn’t it Christmas just a year ago?”

Before she could finish her thoughts, Lucy’s alarm clock radio started blaring again, this time playing what had to be the umpteenth remake of “Carol of the Bells.” Lucy then reached from under her blanket, shut off the clock radio, and began to slowly peel the covers back. As her eyes scanned her bedroom, they quickly fell on the window opposite her bed. Sure enough, the biggest sign of Christmas’s imminent arrival, after the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, was falling in front of her eyes: small, delicate, white snowflakes were whizzing about outside in the pre-winter wind.

“Oh, well,” Lucy thought, “fall was nice while it lasted.”

Lucy then shuffled out of her bedroom towards the kitchen, when a twinge of horror came over her: the Christmas fairy had attacked the kitchen and living room! Everywhere she looked were various Christmas decorations—manger scenes, candy canes, elves, and Santas as far as the eye could see.

“Oh no!” Lucy moaned in disgust, “Who is responsible for this?”

“Merry Christmas, my dear!” sang a chipper, upbeat voice, as Lucy’s roommate Joan embraced Lucy from behind and kissed her on the cheek. “Do you like what I’ve done with the place?”

“Did St. Nick crash land his sleigh in here?”

“I’m trying to get in the Christmas mood, so I got up early and put up all these decorations. What do you think?”

“I think I’m going back to bed. Wake me up in March,” Lucy retorted sarcastically. Lucy didn’t like any holidays, but Christmas was her least favorite of all. Most of her memories of Christmas consisted of family get togethers that always turned into family feuds. Over the years, she adopted the attitude that Christmas held nothing good for her and should be avoided altogether.

“Do you know where I could find a cheap Christmas tree?” Joan asked, ignoring Lucy’s sarcasm.

“There are some nice pine trees at the cemetery across the street,” Lucy replied.

“I don’t think those are for sale.”

“Even if they’re not, they’d do fine for a Christmas tree. Besides, I doubt if any of the residents would notice one missing.”

“Well, if you see or hear of any, let me know. If I can afford it, I’d like to get one.”

Lucy slowly started heading back to her bedroom, trying to forget about all the festivities. As she reached her bedroom door, she turned quickly and noticed Joan staring at her wedding picture, hanging next to the front hall closet. Tears began to well up in Joan’s eyes as she glared at the picture, undoubtedly thinking about her husband who had walked out on her right after Thanksgiving the year before. As she wiped the tears away, she put on a smile and started singing “Away in a Manger” to take her mind off the events of seasons past.

“Lord, I feel really bad now,” Lucy prayed quietly as she walked back into her room. “I know Joan’s trying really hard to get her mind off the divorce, and I’m just being a scrooge. Please forgive me, God, and help me find a cheap Christmas tree.”

The small flurry of snowflakes falling outside seemed to be coming down with greater intensity now, so Lucy turned the radio on to catch a weather forecast. The same, overly happy DJ from earlier could be heard attempting to spread even more holiday cheer, causing Lucy to turn up her nose and roll back her eyes.

“Yes, we’re looking at possibly four inches of snow by evening and temperatures down in the low single digits, perfect weather for snuggling by the fire and roasting chestnuts with that special someone,” the DJ announced, waxing nostalgic.

“Give me a break!” Lucy scowled, reaching again for the radio to turn it off.

“And First United Methodist Church in Clayton is giving away free Christmas trees this year. Yes, that’s right, as a service to our community, First United Methodist Church is giving away some beautiful Christmas trees as a way to share God’s love this season. For more information, you can call the church at 555-6789.”

“Free Christmas trees?” Lucy thought as she finally got around to turning off the radio. “No, it’s probably just for underprivileged people or anyone that makes less money than I do.”

The snow continued well past evening and through the morning, completely blanketing the area. School had been called off, many church services had been cancelled, and even the holiday shopping rush seemed to be slowing down amidst the early season deep freeze. Lucy awoke once more to the sound of the radio station DJ who was simply too happy for her, or perhaps Lucy’s, own good.

“Looks like it’s going to be another cold one out there, Folks, so make sure you bundle up and keep your radio dial set on your listener supported Christian music station for the latest weather updates and your favorite Yuletide tunes. By the way, our friends at First United Methodist say that they’ve still got plenty of trees to give away, so be sure to stop by some time today, whether by car or by bobsled, and pick up yours. This offer is too good to pass up. While you’re there, make sure you tell them that your friends at listener supported Yes Radio sent you. Remember, it’s because of your generous contributions that we can bring this music…”

“I hate her!” Lucy mumbled, repeating the scene set the morning before. Only one day into the Christmas season and she’d had about all she could stand of the holiday cheer and not-so-subtle requests for money from every charity on earth. “I can’t believe they’ve still got trees to give away, though. Maybe people couldn’t make it out to the church because of the bad weather.”

Lucy paced around her bedroom, looking for the motivation to get dressed and trudge out in the snow to work. Motivation for much of anything except sleep had been hard to find recently. Lucy was working a lot of extra hours at her job, trying to make up for the three months she’d missed during the summer before because her car accident. Christmas reminded her all the more of how far in the hole financially she really was, and she wasn’t sure how she’d ever swing the necessary cash to buy presents for everyone. As she started sinking deeper into self-pity, though, she remembered Joan. Poor Joan, whose husband had left her with a stack of bills a mile high and a kid to put through college on her own. Pretty much everything Joan had made over the last year was going to her lawyer for a messy divorce that seemed like it would never, ever settle. No, now isn’t the time to be self-centered, Lucy thought to herself. Joan needed her help to get through the holidays this year, and Lucy wasn’t going to let her down. Slowly, she marched over to the telephone and dialed the radio station.

“Good morning, and thank you for calling your listener supported Christian music station, Yes Radio. This is Gracie Greer, your Morning Cheer!”

“Ah, yeah!” Lucy replied, clearing her throat and trying to sound cordial, “I was wanting some more information about the free Christmas trees. I’ve heard you announce them a few times and I…”

“Why yes, that’s correct, ma’am. First United Methodist Church on Clayton,” Gracie interrupted, repeating from the announcement the day before word for word, “is giving away free Christmas trees this year. Yes, that’s right, as a service to our community, First United Methodist Church is giving away some beautiful Christmas trees as a way to share God’s love this season. For more information, you can call the church at 555-6789.”

“That’s great, but what I wanted to know before I call there was if there were any restrictions on who was eligible for a free tree, like if there was an income limitation of any sort or…”

“Well, not that I know of, but you’d better call the church and find out. I wouldn’t want to tell you the wrong thing and get both the church and you mad at me, especially not before our Annual Winter Share-a-thon, hint, hint!” Gracie cut in again, Lucy’s annoyance growing as the conversation progressed.

“Thanks a lot, Ms. Morning Cheer. You have a good day.”

“Wait, can I get your name, ma’am?”

“Lucy Cosgrove.”

“Easy, partner. Don’t go moseying off just right this second. Let me see if we’ve got you in the ‘puter.”

“What do you need me in your computer for?”

“We like to know who our friends are. Well, well, you’re name’s not in here, which means you’ve not yet contributed to listener supported Christian radio! How about that?”

“How about that?” Lucy retorted facetiously, her patience wearing thin, “must’ve plum slipped my mind!”

“Don’t worry, Darlin’, because now it’s easier than ever to partner with this vital ministry of sharing God’s love through the airwaves. For a pledge of only $20 a month, you can become one of our Yes, I’m Blessed! Club members, which means you’ll get a free Yes, I’m Blessed! Bumper sticker, refrigerator decal, a stuffed Yes, I’m Blessed! Club bear cub, and…”

“Gee, that sounds like a great deal. However, I’m in no financial position right now to give to anyone. I’ll keep you in mind, though, okay?” Lucy cut in, trying desperately to end the phone call before it went any further.

“That’s alright. Maybe you’d like to volunteer to work the phones for our upcoming Share-a-thon? It’s because of the generous contributions of time, talent, and treasure from listeners like you that make this ministry possible.”

“Golly, look at the time! I’m going to be late for work! I hate to cut this short! Thanks so much for your help,” Lucy quickly sputtered out as she hung up the phone. “Yeesh, the Energizer Bunny has nothing on old Gracie!”

Five o’clock quickly rolled around, and Lucy trudged out to her car and headed to the church. As she pulled into the church lot, she saw a field beside the church filled with bright green trees just waiting for someone to take them home.

“Hey,” Lucy thought to herself, “those trees look pretty nice. I can’t believe they’ve not gotten rid of them already.”

The wind seemed to blow just a little stronger and colder than it had before; as the chill blew against Lucy’s face, she could feel the chill in her heart get even stronger. Oh, how she hated this time of year, the weather a reminder of the emptiness she so often felt inside. How many Christmases had gone by up until now, marked not with cheer and warmth but by anger and bitterness, memories of those she loved most carrying on and arguing with one another about petty things, and the untold vacancies under the Christmas tree, if there was any Christmas tree at all?

“Pull yourself together, Luce,” she said quietly to herself, “let’s just get this over with.”

A cheery middle aged blonde woman sitting behind the receptionist’s desk greeted Lucy as she walked in the door. “Season’s Greetings. Welcome to First United Methodist. How may I help you?”

“Hi. I was interested in the Christmas trees you’re giving away,” Lucy replied, her head held down, too embarrassed to look the woman in the eye.

“Splendid. We’re trying to get rid of them. Did you see them in the field next to the church as you came into the parking lot? Just grab whatever tree catches your eye.”

“Now, I want you to know that I’m not a dead beat or a bum or anything like that.”

“Excuse me, young lady?”

“I work hard for my money, and normally buying a Christmas tree would be no problem, but I was in this car accident this summer, and I was out of work for awhile…”Lucy began to ramble.

“Miss, we don’t care how much money you do or do not make. We just do this so we can bless the community around us. I’m sure you’re a very hard worker and…” the woman replied, not sure where Lucy was going with her little monologue.

“Oh, I’m the hardest worker you’ll ever come across. And I’m a generous person, too. I donate 90% of my income to charity every year, too…well, every year except this year. I was out of work for three months from a car accident, and I’m still not caught up. You’ve got to understand, lady, I’m at rock bottom trying to dig my way out, and I can barely afford my rent, let alone money for a Christmas tree…”

“It’s not a problem. The trees are for anyone who wants them…”

“It’s not even for me so much, but for Joan, my roommate. Her husband left her last year, and she’s been depressed out of her mind, and she said the one thing she really wanted but couldn’t afford was a Christmas tree. I wanted to spare her the humiliation of having to come down here and beg for a tree. Besides, if she doesn’t get a tree, she’ll get so bummed out she’ll likely overdose on chocolate covered cherries or something,” Lucy continued, not once coming up for air and oblivious to the receptionist’s continued reassurances that the trees were for anyone.

“Young lady, why don’t you just follow me out to the field and pick out your tree?”

Lucy, deciding it best if she closed her mouth before putting her foot all the way down to her intestinal tract, quietly nodded and followed the woman out to the field. The tree-covered field caught Lucy’s eyes, and for a second, she didn’t feel the wind blowing against her face. Row after row of big, beautiful pines and spruces dotted the landscape. When the two approached a tree that Lucy liked, she turned and asked the woman,

“These are beautiful trees. How come you’re having such a hard time getting rid of them? I would’ve thought everyone would’ve snapped these all up by now.”

“Well, I’m not really sure. My guess is that no one really believes that the trees are free,” the woman replied.

Lucy picked out a tree, loaded it into her car, and headed home.

“Joan will be so happy when she sees this,” Lucy thought to herself. As she drove down Clayton towards the interstate, she looked up and noticed a Christmas billboard displaying a manger scene with some familiar words inscribed above it: ”for God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” Lucy’s mind then raced back to the church and the nice receptionist and one of the last things she said to Lucy before she went back into the church. “It’s really free, and it’s really meant for me.”

“Oh, you found a tree! It’s beautiful! Oh, and you decorated it, too! How much did it cost you?” Joan exclaimed as she walked in the front door and saw the tree for the first time.

“Not a cent,” Lucy replied, ”The price was paid for me.”

“Well…wow! I don’t know what to say! It looks great. You know, I couldn’t imagine having Christmas without a tree. I’m so happy! Hey, what do you say we throw a few more ornaments on here and then have dinner?”

“One second,” Lucy replied, “I’ve got something to do.” She walked into her bedroom and dialed the number for the Yes Radio.

“Merry Christmas from Yes Radio! This is Gracie Greer, your Holiday Cheer! How can I help you?” Gracie answered happily.

“Hi. This is the girl you talked to this morning. Can you sign me up for your next Share-a-thon?”



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