In the City, part 4

Christmas in the City

Continued from In the City, part 1, part 2, and part 3

In an empty space in a remote corner of the garage, Joe wanted to apologize to his wife, but he knew it would only make her feel worse if he did. So, he blinked back his tears of frustration and began trying to make a satisfactory nest out of his jacket and other clothes from the suitcase. Mary sank into it, put her head on his lap, and fell asleep. Joe sighed, leaned back against the cement wall, and soon was asleep himself.

Several hours later Joe was awakened by the grip of his wife’s fingers clenched around his forearm. “Joseph!” she was gasping, “It’s time! It’s happening!”

Joe had been sleeping just well enough to be completely disoriented by this wake-up call. “It’s what?” he responded foggily, a heartbeat before the realization hit him. “Oh! Oh!” was his second response, and he sat up, still cradling Mary’s head in his lap. “Ok, ok,” he kept repeating, trying to get his brain up to speed. “Ok. What should I do?”

“I—don’t—know,” said Mary evenly between gasps. “I—don’t—know.”

“Do you—should I—do you want me to try and find a doctor?” was Joe’s nervous question.

“No—don’t—leave—me!” came the clenched-teeth answer.

And so the couple began a new struggle—Mary breathing and pushing, Joe encouraging and holding, both murmuring frantic prayers to a God whose timing seemed to be way off.

All alone in a Chicago parking garage.

When the turmoil was over, several hours later, exhaustion and peace settled over that corner of the garage. Mary still lay on Joe’s coat, completely spent. Joe sat next to her, his eyes shining. In his arms he cradled their new baby boy. His heart nearly burst with the wonder of it all.

He didn’t know how many minutes or hours he had spent gazing at his tiny son, but at some point he heard a truck roll up and then stop. The doors slammed as two men in worn, blue coveralls stepped out and removed greasy caps from their heads. Joe read the name patches sewn above their breast pockets, but the stitched script letters held no clue as to where these men had come from, or why. Somehow they did not seem surprised to find a newborn among the Broncos, Rams, and Mustangs.

In fact, they seemed spellbound at the sight of the baby, and they didn’t move any closer until Joe greeted them. “His name’s Josh,” he said, clearing his throat and motioning them over.

They knelt on the oil-spotted floor next to Joe and peered into the baby’s face. Joe had never seen such coarse-looking men take such interest in an infant. Their eyes were round with wonder, and the few words they spoke were only throaty whispers.

As Joe watched one of the strangers touch the t-shirt his son was wrapped in, he began to understand something, though he couldn’t put words to it. He could sense a larger purpose, and he was overwhelmed at the small part he had been invited to play in a grand story. His frustration at the dusty bus ride, the pointless convention, the broken bottles and cigarette stubs on the floor of the parking garage—it all melted away and became a glistening backdrop for the story of the unfolding relationship between this baby and this mechanic. A man unaware that something was broken in his life was finding redemption in the touch of a child.

When the baby wrapped his small, white hand around the mechanic’s thick, stained finger, the man gasped and nearly cried.

And Joe too shed tears, and breathed a prayer of wordless thanks.

city Christmas story
Original artwork by Sharon Ruane, copyright 2010

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11, NIV)

Merry-Christmas_570

In the City, part 3

city Christmas story

Continued from In the City, part 1 and part 2

Never having been out of Iowa before, Joe felt unprepared to face the overwhelming Chicago streets they had just come in from. And given the unsatisfactory nature of the relationship he had with the hotel clerk, he was not ready to put any more hope in him. So when he saw a man in a greasy mechanic’s uniform turn a corner at the far side of the lobby, he grabbed Mary’s hand and their single suitcase, and headed in that direction.

The hallway he turned in to was empty, and the battered door of a freight elevator was just closing. Joe watched the lights above the door indicate that the elevator was headed down—to an underground garage, he assumed. He wasn’t sure what to do, but his career as a welder made him feel a greater kinship with the mechanic he had seen from a distance than with the hotel clerk or anyone else he had spoken with that day. Still, he wasn’t naive enough to believe the mechanic actually had any power to help him. So he simply waited, unsure.

He found a chair for Mary and offered her a baggie of almonds he pulled out of his jacket pocket. He sat on the floor next to her and tried to look reassuring while keeping a casual eye on the elevator door, wondering what excuse he would come up with if someone did appear from around the corner.

But after more than 30 minutes, no signs of life had come from the freight elevator. No footsteps had sounded down the hall. Joe rose to his feet, smoothed his khakis with his hands, and glanced up and down. Then he pushed the button near the freight elevator door. When it opened, he and Mary stepped in and began their descent to the basement.

Though the clerk had told them the hotel was full, the basement parking garage was not. Joe surveyed his surroundings thoughtfully, then headed in a direction as far from the elevator as possible, and away from any other points of entry or exit. He wanted as much privacy as possible.

The garage was not busy at this hour, and when Joe did hear footsteps and a jingle of keys, he simply strode more confidently, as though he and his family were heading to their own parked car. After a few moments, the oblivious intruder was gone, and Joe and Mary were alone again.

In an empty space in a remote corner of the garage, Joe wanted to apologize to his wife, but he knew it would only make her feel worse if he did. So, he blinked back his tears of frustration and began trying to make a satisfactory nest out of his jacket and other clothes from the suitcase. Mary sank into it, put her head on his lap, and fell asleep. Joe sighed, leaned back against the cement wall, and soon was asleep himself.

city Christmas story
Original artwork by Sharon Ruane, copyright 2010. Artist note: “I really like this one. There’s a coziness co-existing with the cold stone walls and metal of the cars. It occurs to me that the cars are like observers, headlights looking on.”

Conclusion next week

In the City, part 2

city Christmas story

Continued from In the City, part 1

Relieved to finally begin feeling as if they belonged, Joe gave the man his name and waited while he looked up their reservation. He grew just a little bit worried as the clerk punched in code after code in an attempt to call up the Davidsons’ records. He wondered if everything was going to be alright.

It wasn’t. “Sorry, sir,” the clerk cleared his throat. He had finally exhausted all possibilities of finding Joe and Mary a room. “There is simply nothing available. Are you sure you have the right hotel?”

“Yes, of course,” returned Joe, who was beginning to feel a little hot in the face. “You said yourself this is where the convention is.”

“Well,” said the clerk, “they must have underestimated the number of people coming. All the rooms are taken. I’m sorry, but there is really nothing I can do.”

Joe turned to look helplessly at Mary for some kind of direction or reassurance, but he found that she was somewhat preoccupied with her own problems. She was very pale, and she seemed to be on the verge of tears. Joe reached for her hand and felt it tremble as he held it. Gently he led his wife to one of the lobby chairs and tried to make her comfortable.

When he returned to the desk, he addressed the clerk again. “Look,” he tried to explain, noticing that his voice seemed higher than he wanted it to, “my wife is pregnant, and we’ve just taken the bus all the way from Princeton, Iowa. You need to find a room for us—we don’t have anywhere else to go.”

The clerk seemed unaffected by Joe’s problems. “I can’t give you a room if I don’t have a room,” he said, annoyed, and he was about to dismiss Joe or have him removed by hotel security when he caught a glimpse of Mary, who was in obvious pain but was trying not to draw attention to herself. The scared look on her pale face—and the way she was biting her lip to keep from crying—caught the man off guard, and suddenly he was little ashamed of himself. “I’m sorry, Mr. Davidson,” he said softly. “Let me talk to the manager and see what we can do.”

Joe sighed and nodded, then returned to his wife while the young clerk searched for the hotel manager. He knelt next to Mary’s chair and held her hand, gently talking to her and shielding her from the streams of people swirling through the lobby.

The last place Mary wanted to be, in her condition, was in a posh lobby, surrounded by strangers who seemed to recoil when they noticed either the size of her belly or the pallor of her face. “Joe,” she begged, “let’s get out of here. We don’t belong here.”

“But,” he began to reply, “where—?” And he could see in her eyes that it didn’t matter where. Just somewhere away from the crowds.

Never before had Joe been so angry and so helpless. Here he worked for one of the largest companies in the world—in fact, he had worked there most of his life—and, after forcing him to come to this ridiculous convention, they had screwed up the reservations, leaving him and his pregnant wife homeless in Chicago! Joe was now near tears himself.

Never having been out of Iowa before, he felt unprepared to face the overwhelming Chicago streets they had just come in from. And given the unsatisfactory nature of the relationship he had with the clerk, he was not ready to put any more hope in him. So when he saw a man in a greasy mechanic’s uniform step into a freight elevator on the far side of the lobby, he grabbed Mary’s hand and their single suitcase, and headed in that direction.

city Christmas story
Original artwork by Sharon Ruane, copyright 2010. Artist note: “The waves on the wall echo Mary’s bulging abdomen, as well as the nausea, fuming frustration, and exasperation of the situation. Looming larger than the others is the man ‘in charge,’ who is supposed to have answers—yet his face wears a blank stare that gives no encouragement to those who need assistance. The crowd pressing in creates a tight, uncomfortable feeling, which makes the freight elevator behind Mary look like an inviting respite.”

Continued next week…

In the City, part 1

city Christmas story

The bus lurched to a stop, nearly throwing the young couple standing at the front into the greenish windshield. The woman, who was not only pregnant but overdue, cried out as she stumbled into the metal handle that worked the doors. The man, off-balance himself, tried to steady her without falling down the corrugated stairs. He shot an angry look at the driver before they dismounted, but the driver only grunted as he swung the doors shut behind them and lurched back into traffic.

It had been a long trip, and they were not used to traveling. So they stood for a minute near the curb, their single battered suitcase in hand, not quite ready to enter the swift currents of people that flooded the sidewalks, not quite sure which direction they should aim for once they did. They had never been to Chicago before, and they wished they weren’t here now.

Joe and Mary Davidson were from tiny Princeton, Iowa. He was a welder, as his father had been. She was an old-fashioned girl, quiet and intelligent. Joe worked at the smallest branch division of a large, multi-million-dollar, nation-wide company, where he was one insignificant name way at the bottom of the organizational chart. In a world divided neatly into workers and bosses, Joe was clearly a worker.

It was Joe’s job with this company that had brought them to Chicago. A new, young Ivy-Leaguer had taken over at the top, and in a show of power thinly disguised as “company spirit,” he had decreed that everyone attend the annual convention. This year it was in Chicago.

Mary’s pregnancy was no excuse for Joe not to attend. Every employee, from CEO to mailroom clerk, was expected to be in Chicago this weekend. Whoever wasn’t could expect to find somewhere else to work come Monday morning. It was that simple. So Joe and Mary found themselves making the journey.

Still standing at the curb, they looked around for a few minutes in frustrated apprehension. Then they smiled weakly at each other, grasped hands, and stepped gingerly into the current, where they were quickly swept away by the tide of humanity.

Somehow they managed to find the hotel that had been booked by the company. Joe looked around in the lobby for anyone he knew or anything that seemed familiar, but, finding no one and nothing, he worked up the courage to face the desk clerk on his own. He waited quietly by the counter for the man to look up from his computer. After a few minutes of being ignored, he shifted his balance and tried to make an unobtrusive noise. The clerk looked up.

“Yes?” he asked, confused by the presence of someone like Joe in a hotel like this.

Having now got the man’s attention, Joe wasn’t sure what to do with it. “We’re—uh—we—,” he indicated his wife, “—we need someplace to stay,” he stammered.

“Sorry, we’re booked.” The man returned to his work. “Big convention this weekend. No rooms left.”

“Yes, see, that’s why we’re here,” Joe began. “We’re here for the convention.”

“Oh, why didn’t you say so?” The clerk put on his customer-service smile and looked attentive. “What’s the name?”

Relieved to finally begin feeling as if they belonged, Joe gave the man his name and waited while he looked up their reservation. He grew just a little bit worried as the clerk punched in code after code in an attempt to call up the Davidsons’ records. He wondered if everything was going to be alright.

city Christmas story
Original artwork by Sharon Ruane, copyright 2010. Artist note: “I like the jumbled city because it feels confused like Mary and Joseph do.”

Continued next week