Unopened Gifts

It was a cold, January night in the valley of coal. A fresh coating of snow covered the hills and glistened brightly in the light of the full moon, as tiny plumes of smoke wafted skyward from the chimneys in the valley below. For a moment, time stood still, as if the entire universe wanted me to know I was a part of something larger. The silence would have been deafening had it not been for the crunching and squeaking coming from beneath my partner’s boots. “Nice night, but it’s cold, and we have work to do,” he said, as he grasped my shoulder. I nodded, turned, and opened the door of the ambulance to retrieve a rescue bag and a bottle of oxygen.

Now there were numerous ways one could contribute to the needs of our small community. We had our share of non-profit organizations, religious charities, ethnic and social clubs, and the volunteer fire department or ambulance service. My father was a volunteer firefighter, but since my idea of adventure did not include imitating a roasted hot dog, I opted to invest my efforts as part of the local emergency medical squad.

3:00 A.M. calls weren’t uncommon, especially during the extremes of weather, and so here we were again. My partner and I made our way up the unshoveled walk and onto the front porch of a tiny home; an old company row house left over from the big mining era that swept through the valley decades earlier. We knocked at the door and let ourselves in, because everyone made themselves at home with Miss Annie Krinksy.

Annie Krinsky was an elderly lady, a retired elementary school teacher who never married and she was without a family. Her parents, John and Beulah, had immigrated to the United States in the 1920s and came to our town in search of what everyone else had come for – work! Her father was a coal miner, and her two brothers, John and Jack, soon joined him in the mines after completing the 8th grade. While they labored to survive the Great Depression, they soon succumbed to the dangers of the earth below. Annie quit school and took a job at the local company store in order to keep the house where she and her mother would live out their days. After a long day at work, Annie would visit Sister Maria Theresa Coppelo, a local teacher who would tutor her for the purposes of obtaining a teaching certificate. Annie soon became a teacher.

Annie met us at the door and offered us the usual coffee and cookies. She was a frail woman, bent at the shoulders and joints. I looked at her hands in amazement and wondered how she could care for herself. The years of hard labor and coping had left a mark and while 3:00 A.M. calls weren’t uncommon, 3:00 A.M. calls to Annie Krinsky’s house usually meant one thing – she was lonely.

This wasn’t my first visit to Annie’s house. In fact, everyone on the rescue squad knew her by name and she knew them. Responding to an emergency call at Annie Krinsky’s was like visiting an old friend. She never had a real complaint. We would simply check her vital signs, call the doctor at the emergency room with report to get signed off, and then radio the dispatch of our availability while we stayed a few moments to chat.  Her house was amazing considering her condition; it was spotless and smelled of Pine-sol and Lemon Pledge. But there was one thing I will never forget about Annie’s home – someone had given her an artificial Christmas tree, and she never put it away. In fact, she would turn on the lights at any given time (even in July), and you could always see unopened packages underneath the tree.

I remember the last call to Annie Krinsky’s house. A neighbor had reported that she would not answer the door and called for help. Albert, the town police chief arrived and led us inside where we found her in her favorite rocking chair facing the Christmas tree. She was covered with a puffy, homemade quilt, but it could not keep her from the chilling arms that enveloped her body. Annie Krinsky had died.

It’s Christmas Eve, and as I look at our tree and the wrapped gifts underneath, I am reminded of Annie and her oddities. I’m not sure what happened to her home, her possessions, or to her tree. I am curious as to what and for whom those unopened packages were intended. I never asked, but I am saddened to think she had gifts to share that will never be known.

Perhaps you and I have unopened gifts under our Tree of Life; talents, abilities, and spiritual fruits all waiting to be consumed by a world in need. Perhaps we hold back because of fear, guilt, unforgiveness, or other circumstances that make the joy of giving seem like an impossible feat. During this Christmas, I hope you will resolve to empty your tree of unopened packages as I will. The world is waiting for us!

©Copyright 2011 Scott Rhoades/Ivory Hill Studios

*My life and experiences are real, but I have used artistic license in the telling of this story. Names, persons, and situations have been changed or combined with other personalities or events to offer you some perspectives of my life and community while protecting the identities of those involved.

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