I know it’s a two-way street, so I’m putting the word out early. “Love you, but don’t get us anything ’cause we’re not getting you anything.” And so far, that’s been met with sighs of relief by my friends and loved ones, who are more than happy to cross off a couple names on their seasonal shopping list.
One thing we have been able to give this year is “time” – an hour here and there, helping neighbors who need a hand – a day’s slave labor devoted to our parents that will be spent getting projects done they’ve been putting off – a visit to a shut in, who can’t go out and find Christmas cheer themselves. It’s been a good gifting method so far.
Yesterday some friends of mine gave their own gifts of time. We combined forces and did Christmas shows for some of our favorite neighbors at Pine Knoll and the Stewart House.
First we showed up at Pine Knoll. We were supposed to meet in the parking lot, but it was way too cold and we huddled just inside the door, waiting for our crew to arrive. We had two guitars, a violin, a flute, and a handful of robust singers, all wearing holiday red and Santa hats. While we waited, we noticed a church van pull up — the Flat Rock Missionary Baptist Church from Villa Rica. They all came in too, wearing their own holiday red and Santa hats. We thought they must have come to visit residents, but when we made our way down the hall, to the meeting room, they followed us.
We set up our music stands and chairs. Our folks passed out carol books. The Missionary Baptist Church folks tucked in beside us. And we all began to sing. I have to tell you, that was some beautiful music.
Not that the chords were always right. In fact, I had written down the guitar chords ahead of time and made a pretty big mess of them. But Stan, the real guitarist in our midst, took the lead and kept us right on time. Elizabeth on fiddle and Cathy on flute played the most beautiful improvisational duets you can imagine, and we all joined in singing the words of our favorite Christmas songs. The residents’ faces glowed as they listened, some even joining in with gusto. It was a big, beautiful Christmas chaos.
When our 30 minutes were up, we had to scramble out the door to make it to Stewart House by 11. So, when the Flat Rock Missionary Baptists asked us to join them, we had to politely decline. I was hurrying down the hallway when I was stopped dead in my tracks by the first notes of their gospel singing — strong, rich voices. They sang a song of hope that filled me with lightness. I went back and listened to them, as long as I dared, and then bolted for our next gig.
The troops were already gathered at the Stewart House. This show was a little more structured than the last. We sang out of their hymnal – about the manger – about the angels and the shepherds. We sang about the Miracle. On the last song, I asked if anybody had a request. I was banking on “Silent Night.” That’s what people usually want to end with. But a lady in a wheelchair called out, “O Holy Night.” Wayne played it beautifully. The woman in the chair listened, eyes closed, gently smiling. As we sang, I wondered if she was at a Christmas long ago, surrounded by people that she loved, in a place that existed only in her memory.
The crowd applauded and cheered when we finished and we knew we had spent our time wisely.
As we packed up our gear and made ready to leave, a resident named Bert approached me. He was a regular listener at the Stewart House and I was glad to see him. He was carrying a painting. I’d seen it before, leaned on the piano in their meeting room. It was done in a folk art style — vibrant greens and reds and yellows depicting a pair of houses with a stout fence. I’d heard Bert telling the tale about it — how they were Civil War dwellings and when General Sherman’s troops marched up to them, the occupants said, “Here, take our horses and our cows but please don’t burn our houses.”
Bert handed me the canvas and I admired it. It was all the things I love about art — an earnest piece, done with joy – from the heart. I thought he was just showing it to me, and I handed it back. But he gave it back to me and said, “Merry Christmas.” My eyes filled with tears at the unexpected gift. This man who I hardly knew had given me a piece of his own heart. And I hadn’t given him a thing.
Gentry, a Carroll County resident, writes a weekly column for the Times-Georgian.