Christmas charity can be discovered in any home

  • Written by Claudia Parker


(This column originally appeared in the Inside Oak Lawn Magazine in December of 2013)

Have you heard the cliche, go along, to get along? That’s exactly what I was doing back in 2002 when my then new husband, Don, told me he knew how to get where we were going.

He was right; sort of.

The street was lined with cars, Christmas decor lit the yard and the muzzled laughter followed by chatter cued us to believe we were at the right Christmas party. In hindsight, maybe we were, but it’s not where we were invited. I attempted to be discrete when I interrupted his conversation, whispering, “Let’s go! We’re at the wrong house!” but things went a little haywire when he yelled, “What? We’re in the wrong house?!”

My mother-in-law is notorious for being late. She’d invited us to accompany her to a Christmas party of an old colleague of hers. She gave us the address and told us she’d meet us there, momentarily, which meant, in an hour. I didn’t want to go in without her but Don insisted.

Upon our entrance of this extravagantly appointed home, we were greeted by a host who took our coats. I noticed him, noticing our empty hands. We explained we were guests of Ms. Parker, but she hadn’t arrived. He smiled as he gave us a tour of the main quarters. "I hope my mother-in-law has 'whatever' we were supposed to bring," I thought.

On our tour there were beautifully decorated Christmas trees in each room, holiday music playing softly and the scent of pumpkin pie, fresh yeast rolls and honey glazed ham. We were offered a plate and asked if we were hungry. “I think we should wait a bit.” I said. But not Don, “Oh yes, thank you!” he replied, as he began stacking it to resemble a small hill.

It wasn’t until he’d eaten his second plate that I finally agreed to eat. We were well into a competitive networking game when my mother-in-law called my cellphone. “Where are you?” she said. I rolled my eyes as I looked at my watch. “The second living room, near the back,” I told her. “I’m in the living room. They only have one,” she replied. “What address did you go to?”

The look on my face must have been telling. A nice gentlemen, who'd been very conversational since we arrived said, “What’s wrong dear?” I whisked passed him to get to Don. The man followed. We were totally exposed because after Don yelled, “What? …wrong house?” The man replied, “I figured this much.”

He was the owner. Polite and gracious he was, but never leaving us unattended for long. He began to explain the purpose behind the party. He and his wife were owners of an investment firm. Every year they put together a Christmas gala in their home. Guests are welcome to bring others but everyone must bring an unwrapped gift, for the Toys for Tots charity.

Now I realized why he looked disappointed after taking our coats. We didn’t bring a gift -- his only rule, broken! We apologized for the mix up, wrote him a nice check and ran for the door. The party we were invited to was at his neighbor’s, which was next door.

I believe even in mistakes, we’re perfectly placed. From that year forward, we made charitable giving a part of our lives. I learned the route you take to give isn’t what’s important, if when your gift is given, it comes from the heart. Merry Christmas!

Claudia Parker is an Evergreen Park mother, author and runner whose columns appear in The Reporter the second and fourth Thursdays of each month.