This time of year, news reports spotlight those who are on the job – in one form or another – on a day that most of us set aside for celebration. These folks extend a helping hand or are at the office so others can be with family and friends. They volunteer, delivering Meals on Wheels, for example, so others can participate in the joy of the season.
As a Jew, usually I’m one of those substitute folks. I’ve spent most Christmas holidays on the job. In the news business, working on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is usually a quiet and even peaceful task. Most forms of mayhem – with the exception of house fires – seem to take a break.
Making the law enforcement checks, taking the few obituaries that come in and searching for a feature story to highlight the day’s celebration are usually as low-key as the news business gets.
It isn’t too difficult to see how I’ve spent the Christmas holiday over the years – just check the micro film or the Internet. In 1974, my first Christmas on my first job out of college, I was at work at The Fayetteville Times. On the orders of my boss and mentor, Roy Parker, I joined his family at Christmas dinner. It was my first Christmas dinner. I still recall the sweetness of the ambrosia his mother prepared.
A few years later, as a reporter at the Tallahassee Democrat, I was desperate to come up with some twist for a 1979 Christmas Day news story. I sought out the Special Delivery postal carrier who’d work on the holiday. Ever tried to call the local post office?
After several unanswered calls (this was in the days before voicemail), I was finally able to track down the local postmaster. “Could I ride along with the Christmas Day mail carrier?” The reply was short, direct and Grinchly: “No!” Well, then, I quickly followed up, “Could I meet him at the post office and follow him?” He reluctantly relented.
So, very early on Christmas Day, I met Bill Daniels at the main Tallahassee Post Office. He was one of three postal workers on duty in those pre-Federal Express, Facebook, Skype and iPhone days. He had just a few stops – then he’d be on his way to celebrate with his family.
At 10:30 a.m., we arrived at the home of Brenda Trantham. It was quiet at the house. Certainly not the usual commotion we take for granted as the Christmas morning norm. Daniels had a package from Trantham’s mother. She beamed and seemed near tears. The present and a long-distance telephone call later would mark her Christmas celebration.
In the early 1980s, I spent the day with the Jewish community of Wichita, Kan., as it kept up its tradition of working for the Meals on Wheels deliverers so they could be with family. Stop after stop, I ended up spending way more time than I’d expected, visiting with those receiving meals.
In nearly every case, I was the only visitor who’d be coming by on a day when we’re bombarded with cultural messages of family sentiment. For 10 or 15 minutes, we were family and the holiday’s celebration.
I won’t be recalling Christmas 2011 by a story headline or date emblazoned below a newspaper masthead. I spent much of Christmas Eve with my mother in the emergency room at UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill. My mom had a fall in her apartment and, as it turned out, broke her upper left femur.
It was, as usual, busy but not overwhelmingly so, in the emergency room when I arrived about 11 a.m. Controlled chaos is the norm. But the holiday had all of that at a minimum. The staff was attentive and concerned.
Nurses, doctors and other attendants introduced themselves by first names, came by with updates, questions, directions to take this test or that X-ray, or just to check on this and that. By late afternoon, my mother was told she’d need surgery and admitted to a room.
At 9 a.m. on Christmas Day, my mother was in the OR. After 45 minutes in the good hands of Dr. Ganesh Kamath, a rod was placed on the bone below her hip. In the waiting room near the OR, where a table was piled high with snacks and drinks donated by volunteers for those spending time awaiting the outcome of operations, Dr. Kamath said the surgery had gone well. My mother should have a full recovery.
Each Christmas I’ll now recall and be thankful for the security folks at Carolwoods in Chapel Hill where my mother lives and the EMS staff who carried her to the hospital. I’ll be grateful for the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day I spent with Sarah Mills, nurse Emilia, Pam Lane, Christina R. Kahl and others in the emergency room – and Dr. Kamath and sixth-floor nurses Chris and Jean – and all the others who spent their biggest holiday of the year to make sure others were not neglected.
It is the blessing of the season.
Seth Effron, a news reporter and editor for more than 30 years, works for the
N.C. Energy Office.