My wife and I had been married for 9 days on December 24th, 1979.  We were a young couple in love and starting our journey of bringing together the cultures and traditions of our very different backgrounds. We had spent Christmas Eve at my father’s house enjoying a loud, boisterous and joyful dinner; until we had to finally leave to make it to her family’s house to be ready for my introduction into the festivities of an Italian American Christmas. We left my father’s around 11:00 pm.  It would normally take us about an hour and a half, but it was cold and rainy, and the bridges were starting to get slick. There was almost no one on the roads.

Chatting about Christmases to come, the time zipped by. We had just noticed that it was past midnight and thus Christmas morning, when we spotted a beat up old station wagon pulled off to the side of the road with the hood up.  I pulled over and let my bride know that I was just going to see if they needed help.

There was an old man with white hair that seemed to light up his smiling face. He had but a few teeth and such a thick East Texas accent that I could not understand what he was saying.  After asking him to repeat himself three times, I finally understood that he was out of gas.  In 1979, at a little past midnight, on Christmas morning, there would not have been a gas station open in all of Texas.  I told him that I might be able to find some gas, but it would take at least 45 minutes. I asked if he wanted to come with us. “No, sir” he said, “I don’t want to leave those Christmas presents I got for my grandbabies.”

Off we went certain that my father in-law would have some gas in his garage. I felt like an intruder rummaging through his garage in search of gas, but we did not want to wake him. At last I found a can with a couple of gallons in it.

I told my wife that I would return by myself. “No way,” she said with a wink, “we are in this together.” With love, pride and Christmas joy we headed back to rescue the old man.

When we returned, I was worried because I did not see our new friend. I approached the car wondering if he had left.  Calling “hello,” I approached with concern.  Then, around the corner he came with a broken long neck bottle held in front of him mumbling something that I could not make out. I stopped with a rush of thoughts: could I take this old man without getting cut; was there an accomplice waiting in the shadows; could I keep my wife safe?  Why did I not insist that she stay behind? The joy of helping an old man on Christmas morning was washed away in a flood of adrenalin.

Straightening my spine and bowing my chest I said, “what did you say?” with as much machismo as I could muster. He continued forward. One more time, “What’s that?”  Finally, I made out “I found this here, we can use as a funnel.”

I could not help but laugh, at which point the old man realized what my fear had been. He laughed too and apologized. We got most of the gas into his tank and saved just enough to prime the carburetor.

I asked him if he had enough to get him where he was going and if he would like us to follow him. He said he thought he would be able to make and did not need any more help.  He opened his wallet and took out the only bill he had, which was a five. “No thanks” I said, “Besides, you’re going to need that for gas to get home.”  He smiled showing off the few teeth he had and said, “God bless you. Merry Christmas.”

36 years later and I still cherish this Christmas memory.

What’s your favorite Christmas memory?