Note: Please start playing this now to fully get into the spirit of the blog. Thanks.
It was Christmas, and he was alone.
His name was Edmond. While he studied for a medical degree at the University of Kentucky, living by himself in a tiny apartment, his family — a wife and two small kids — remained at his home in Africa.
Edmond struggled with his English, botching several words and phrases, but what he lacked in “Americanized” speaking skills, he made up with is smile and laughter.
I worked with Edmond at the shipping warehouse for Gall’s Inc., a Lexington-based company, in the winter of 1998. Gall’s was, to be perfectly honest, a miserable place. Dry, hot air suffocated the workers, causing many long nights of frustration and fighting. But for some reason, this group took to Edmond, joking with him about his lack of knowledge on basketball and teasing him about girls. For the most part of that season, we all enjoyed his company and hoped to make him feel a little like he had some family in Kentucky.
One night while picking packages from a central aisle in the warehouse, J.J. asked Edmond about his holiday plans.
First of all, J.J. was an idiot. Edmond, with no family and few friends outside of Gall’s, had no holiday plans other than volunteering to work on Christmas day.
Second of all, J.J. was a genius. At least, he had an inspired moment or stumbled into it, but for whatever the reason, J.J.’s stupid question proved to be a blessing.
Once word spread throughout the warehouse — and if you’ve never worked in a warehouse, gossip travels faster than warp speed — the holiday spirit filled the air and the workers emptied their pockets to share with Edmond.
We found out he had always wanted a VCR. What a perfect gift that would make, we all thought. After Big Dave (and that’s not one of those ironic nicknames like calling a fat guy “Skinny”) made his way around to the 70-some workers, Edmond’s Christmas pot had about $150.
J.J. said he knew where he could get his hands on a nice VCR for $80, so we let him handle that end of the deal. Most of us assumed he would simply box up his old VCR, wrap it and spend the $80 on a new one for himself, but as long as Edmond received one, we didn’t care where it came from.
For my younger readers, this is a VCR. It’s kind of like a Blu-ray player for video tapes.
The rest of the cash went toward some movies, blank video tapes and a pre-paid phone card so he could call his wife and kids.
Word of our kindness soon made its way to the rest of the company, and Gall’s executives decided to get involved. But rather than send money or provide gifts, they did something even better: they showed up for the presentation of the gifts so they could bask in our warmth and feel good about themselves. We really loved those guys.
Everyone gathered in the break area in the front corner of the building, Edmond stayed behind, still picking orders on aisle “BC.” We sent Tatum, a wonderful girl who dated a guy who actually went by the nickname “Booger,” to fetch our new friend.
I’ll never forget the look on his face as he saw us huddled around a few packages and Tatum announced, “Edmond, since your family is so far away, we wanted you to spend this Christmas with your new family at Gall’s.”
He tore open the wrapping on his package, and when he saw it was a VCR, he whooped like a child receiving his first baseball mitt. “This is for me?” he asked.
He smiled. Then he cried.
We all followed. And we felt damn good about our generosity.
A week later, Edmond quit Gall’s. That’s not entirely true. He just stopped showing up for work. Our goodwill soon turned to anger followed by a desire to track him down and beat him with candy canes.
We had no such luck, though. We were burned by the Christmas spirit and decided from that point on to spend our money on those we loved the most: ourselves.
And to this day, we have no idea what happened to Edmond.
Or our VCR.