At first she was ignored, but the manager, a young man who was very happy and full of the Christmas spirit, came to her rescue and guided her to a chair by his desk. She handed him first the letter. He read it and looked at her questioningly.
Meg looked into his warm, honest eyes, then reached into her dress and brought out the money and the bonds. He looked at it and whistled, then smiled and made a slight bow to her.
Would you like to open an account, Madam? He asked with great respect.
Meg at last smiled back, with great relief.
Yes, she replied simply. Can you tell me if the bonds are worth anything today?”
His smile broadened, and his eyes twinkled. ” You mean you don’t know? These bonds are worth, lets see, about seven million dollars!”
By some miracle of circumstance, Meg had held on to her birth certificate, so she had identification. The nice young man (“Please—call me Nick” he had said to her) – helped her with all she would need to know, made sure she had a letter of credit to show her checks would be good until she had a check guarantee card, and ordered some temporary checks for her.
Nick saw this somewhat timid woman in her ragged clothes,clutching an old doll—clearly a cherished item—and realized she had probably been on the streets for some time, and would need some help getting started with her new life. In spite of her circumstances, she reminded him of his dead mother, whom he still missed.
“What the heck,” he thought, “It’s Christmas Eve. What if this was my mother, fallen on hard times, with no one to help?”
He would take the rest of the day off and help her. This would be an adventure. And keep him from feeling so lonely. He could make the two hour drive to his sister’s house for Christmas dinner in the morning.
He estimated how much money she would need for a place to stay until she could establish a new home, and money to spend for her immediate needs. Then he asked Meg if she would like to buy some clothes and have him help get her settled in a hotel.
“Oh, my, that would be so wonderful!” Meg said,somewhat breathlessly, as the realization that the terrible times were behind her at last really hit home. “If it would be okay, I would like a few hundred dollars extra – in $20 bills, please. For some special Christmas shopping besides my own needs.”
“No problem, ” Nick smiled, “you can have whatever you want!”
It was early in the day. Together Meg, Nick and Mary left the bank and took a taxi straight to Macy’s department store. There Meg picked out a wardrobe for herself—stockings, fine fleece-lined warm dressy boots, a lovely wool pants suit, underwear, soft fleecy pajamas, and some more pants and sweaters for the coming days. The best was the warm coat with the quilted lining. She would not be cold again. Nick helped her choose things as if he were her son. It was the first time in years Meg had laughed as they selected an item, then decided maybe that one was a little too frivolous for winter and put it back. The clerks watched in some wonderment at the handsome and prosperous looking young man holding an old doll and shopping with the bag lady, but they were all helpful and kind.
When she had bags full of her new clothes—she chose to wear her boots , and Nick carried her coat—she asked where the children’s department was. Nick was a little puzzled but it was Meg’s day—so he followed along. There Meg picked out the prettiest dress there was in the child’s size that just fit Mary, along with fancy tights and white patent leather shoes. Then she picked out a velvet coat with a fur-trimmed collar and matching bonnet. The store clerk had fun helping her dress the doll in her new finery.
As they left the store, Meg said if it was okay, she would like to get settled in a hotel, and take a shower before she dressed in her fine new clothes, then treat Nick to lunch in a nice restaurant, not a shabby café.
While they lunched, with Mary sitting in a chair beside her, Meg told Nick how she happened to become a bag lady living on the streets, and how her life had been before her father died. He listened with great interest, and in exchange told her how much he was enjoying her, as he had lost his father as a child also, and his mother last year , and missed her terribly. His sister was married and had two children, but he had just never found the right girl. There had been one when he was in college, but she had been killed in an auto accident.
Perhaps Meg’s circumstances reminded him of the tragedies of his own life, and made him realize we couldn’t always control what happened to us.
Lunch finished, they left the restaurant. Meg’s new purse was a neat shoulder bag that she could unzip across the top and easily reach her hand in.
“Let’s go back to the neighborhood where I was living,” Meg said, “and I will finish my Christmas ‘shopping’.”
Meg, Nick and Mary took a taxi the short distance, and began walking . The familiar streets where Meg had lived these last years, somehow seemed strange, now that she was clean and warm, full of good food, and no longer afraid. Her eyes scanned the sidewalks on both sides of the streets. Yes, they were here, hopeless now that it was late on Christmas eve, but the threesome went up to them one at a time, and Meg gave each a crisp new, $20 bill. “Merry Christmas! Have a warm meal and some left over for another!” she would say to them, and then move on. They cris-crossed the streets, and she was sure to look down alleys. Yes, some were alcoholics, and some shook for drugs. But this Christmas eve they were all real people, people who were once someone’s beloved child, who had in circumstances truly beyond their control, ended up homeless and cold. They walked a long time. For some of the women, women Meg knew were like herself, not drunks, not into drugs, just unfortunate souls, there was more than one $20 bill.
They walked until it was dark, snowing hard, and the streets had emptied out. Meg could not believe she was not even tired. Amazing what hope and food and warmth could do for you. And a friend. She looked at Nick.
“Dinner now?”, she said, hoping Nick would stay with her and help her celebrate a while longer.
“Of course,” he said. “who would I have dinner with but my best girl—my best two girls?” Laughing, Meg hugging Mary, they got into a cruising taxi and went to dinner. As Meg watched the now nearly empty street go by, she felt tears in her eyes.
“Merry Christmas, Meg”, she whispered, “Oh merry, merry Christmas!”