HEART IS WHERE THE HOME IS
Mel woke up to the sun streaming in through the window. He could feel the cold seeping into his bones. He shifted, stretching as best he could knowing he’d have to get out of the truck to do a proper job of it. Stepping out he left the door open to help clear off the windows and did a few toe touches to get his blood circulating.
After living in his old rattle-trap of a truck for the past year and a half Mel had a pretty good routine down. Except for the cold weather months he was doing pretty well. Climbing back in behind the steering wheel he drove himself to a local coffee shop where he got himself a cup of coffee and a muffin for breakfast before heading over to the YMCA. Paying four dollars allowed him to have a swim and then enjoy the showers and bathrooms to clean up.
By now it was ten o’clock and he hurried to make his way to a nearby construction site where they sometimes had extra work he could pick up. Today was not one of those days.
He spent a couple of hours making the rounds trying to find some type of work but just after Thanksgiving it was a rough road.
Climbing back into his pickup Mel sat for a moment before starting it up. Yeah, he decided, it was a rough road, but he’d seen plenty of those in his 59 years, including his time in the army in Viet Nam. He’d survived that and he’d get through this. One of these days he’d get a regular job with a regular paycheck and find himself an apartment to live in instead of his truck. He’d turn things around.
Late in the afternoon he was sitting in a coffee shop having a bite to eat and listening to the Christmas music playing in the dining room. It made him think of all the Christmases he’d spent and what they’d been like. “A lot different than this one was going to be,” he told himself with a shake of his head.
When he was little his mother had made the holidays really special; baking cookies, decorating the house and even taking the time to sew his father, his brother and him special Christmas vests every year. She always started playing her Christmas records the day before Thanksgiving. Her favorite was Perry Como and she must have had three or four of his albums alone. The memory brought a smile to his lips. Those were wonderful Christmases.
In college he’d married a pretty girl he’d met in his world history class. Dark brown hair and bright green eyes, he’d been smitten from the first. Six months after their first date they were married, and a year later Michael was born. That Christmas was the best he’d ever known. They’d gone crazy buying presents for Michael, decorating the tree and starting what they thought would be many years of their own family traditions. He never knew he could be so happy.
But that was also the Christmas he’d gotten his draft notice and by June he found himself in the jungles of Southeast Asia. It wasn’t like anything he’d ever known before. Those relationships, borne out of a dependency and need unlike at home, forged a family there as well. They made those holiday celebrations their own, sharing the care packages that made it with each other and celebrating each in their own way, combining them to make something special and unique. It might sound strange, but there was love there in those jungles too.
After the war things changed for Mel, and not the way he’d hoped for. Returning home to his family was a struggle. He and his wife tried to make things work between them, even having another baby, a daughter they named Emily. That first Christmas after she was born was strained and tense. The joy was there along with love for the kids, but they both knew it was their last shared holiday.
Since then things had been a rollercoaster for Mel. He’d drifted away from his children, following a series of menial, labor-oriented jobs that took him all around the country. When he finally tried to reconnect with his children, they’d drifted away from him. Who could blame them? He was a stranger to them.
So here he sat. The economic downturn had left him unemployed and he’d lost his apartment. All he had was a few personal possessions crammed into his pickup and living from one temporary job to another, the holidays approaching and things looking decidedly un-merry.
Seated near the window he looked out and watched as the colored lights on the storefront across the street lit up. The street, which had looked dark and lonely, was now bright and beckoning.
Hmmm, thought Mel. A few lights and everything changed. Suddenly a thought occurred to him, and feeling more positive then he had in a long time, he finished his meal and hurried out to his truck.
After stopping at the drugstore, he drove to a well lit area of the parking lot and took out his purchases. Three boxes of big, round, multi-colored Christmas lights, and some duct tape. With a smile he went to work. In short order his truck was outlined with the lights and, after connecting them to his battery he shut the hood and climbed in behind the wheel.
Crossing his fingers he turned the key. Immediately his truck was ablaze with the colors of Christmas! Blue, green, red, yellow—around the windows, outlining the hood and bumpers; his truck was a vision.
His mother always said home was where the heart is. Well, he thought, he may not have a home of his own, but he still had a heart that loved Christmas. Who said he couldn’t have Christmas wherever he was? After all, he told himself, couldn’t your heart be where your home was?
Pulling out onto the street he turned his radio on to the station that was playing the carols of the season. A car pulled up next to him and honked drawing his attention to them.
“Right on, man!” they shouted and waved. “Merry Christmas!”
“Merry Christmas!” Mel yelled back with an answering wave.
They knew, he smiled. They knew.