I always remember Walter at Christmas. I will never forget him and the lesson he taught me 40 years ago.

I worked in a supermarket during my college years and it was there that I met twelve-year old Walter. He would regularly come by the store and over a period of time we struck up a friendship. At first he was very shy and would stand at a distance and watch me as I worked. Gradually he came closer and our conversations grew from the exchange of a few words to real dialogue.

Walter lived with his mother, aunt, and a younger brother and sister. Their home was an old run down house near the supermarket. I learned that his father was in prison and it was obvious that the family was very poor. I saw him regularly during the 2 years that I lived and worked in that small town. Often he would be with his mother and other family members. Never once did I hear his mother or aunt speak kindly to him or his siblings. The circumstances of his life explained why he seemed to suffer from a sense of inferiority.

Although economically disadvantaged, Walter exhibited a strong sense of pride. Often I would offer to buy him a Coke or candy bar but he always refused. He worked sweeping sidewalks in front of the downtown businesses, collected bottles to return for deposits, and a variety of odd jobs to earn a few dollars.

When our first child was born in mid September, Walter was excited and wanted to see him. Much to my surprise he accepted an invitation to come home with me one day to see baby Jason.

The addition to our family was a wonderful event but it put extra strain on our already limited finances. As Christmas approached that year we decided that we could not afford to go home to be with our families for the holidays. We began to feel sorry for ourselves and regularly had pity parties.

On  a cold, rainy December day, a couple of weeks before Christmas, Walter came into the store where I worked. I saw him at the end of the grocery aisle and he was motioning for me to follow him. I had no idea what he wanted but I followed as he waved me on. When I got to the front of the aisle Walter was going out the door and was waving for me to come after him.

As I exited the store and looked to my left I saw Walter standing in the rain. His old ragged brown coat was soaking wet as he held something in his hand. Looking closely I realized it was a scraggly little evergreen. It looked like someone had chopped off the top of a tree that was too tall to fit in their house. I asked, “Walter where did you get that?” He answered, “You know that Christmas tree lot up on Main Street? They sold it to me for 50 cents. Ain’t it pretty?” I know I lied in response but he was so proud of it and he added, “I just didn’t think it was right for my little brother and sister not to have a Christmas tree.”

He turned and started to run away then he stopped, dug into his pants pocket, and counting his change he asked, “How many decorations do you think I could get for $1.82?” Before I could answer he turned and ran off.

I stood there in the rain and realized how selfish I had been. Walter reminded me that the spirit of Christmas is about giving. I had been so caught up in thinking only of myself that I forgot the Reason for Season. “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” Walter was a living reminder of God’s love. I am grateful for the lesson learned.

Jamie Jenkins