The (Good) Ghost of Christmas Past

by Patti Trapp, Humility of Mary Housing Volunteer Director

christmas past
There’s much to learn from Christmas of the past.

One Christmas stands out in my mind as eventful, humorous and still life-altering. I’d like to share it, because I live its lesson every day at Humility of Mary Housing as the volunteer director.

Over fifty years ago, the world was a different place. I was much younger, impressionable and my eyes of innocence and wonder still see the memory of that eventful Christmas.

We spent Christmas at my Grandmother’s farmhouse, north of Peoria. Barren cornfields, swept clean by chill winter winds, surrounded her house. The rambling farmhouse had two stories, and there were so many of us that the only room large enough for us all to sit down together for dinner was the basement.

Christmas farmhouse
a Christmas farmhouse. Photo credit: Scott Mather, Wikimedia Commons

Typically, the women were in the kitchen: cooking and gossiping. The men gathered around the television, swapping stories. The 30+ grandchildren were running and playing. My great, great grandmother and my great grandmother sat quietly in their chairs in the living room taking in the antics of the children while two of my aunts, both hard of hearing, sat near the men, one hand cupped around their good ear to hear, each with a can of Budweiser at the ready.

Mischief was in the air. The older boys pulled my cousin Ted aside and convinced him to climb into the laundry shoot. Ted was younger than I, a fireball of energy: thin, glasses secured to his head with a rubber band that ran around the back, and both ears sporting hearing aids. Poor Ted, he was born a geek before geek was a word. But Ted was always game for any challenge. That was pure Ted.

Into the laundry shoot Ted dove, and he started sliding down from the second floor. The other boys ran down the stairs, snaked their way through the kitchen of cooks and then raced down the stairs to the basement. They waited by a pile of pillows and blankets that were strategically located below the hole in the ceiling in front of the washer.

Ted never appeared.

The boys ran back upstairs to see if Ted had come back out the laundry shoot, but there was no Ted.  Meanwhile, Grandma–her head over the turkey to bast it–thought she heard someone crying. There were no shouts: no child came running in tears, so she assumed it was the wind whistling in the eaves. I think the boys made the trip from upstairs to basement and back again twice before they concluded that their idea was flawed.

Ted was stuck inside the wall. The fathers had to be told. Though I don’t remember, Jack was probably sent as the bearer of bad news, since he was the oldest. Pandemonium broke out as an intense search ensued. Someone soon discovered that Ted was behind the kitchen wall… somewhere, roughly, behind the oven.

My uncle was a volunteer fireman and deemed this a simple rescue. Ted was able to tell them he was fine. All of my uncles and my father had built their own homes, they had the tools and the knowledge necessary to execute a rescue. The food, in various stages of prep, was moved into the dining room and covered. The turkey was removed and the oven shut off. Uncle Bud went for his tools while kitchen cabinets were emptied. Part of the kitchen was dismantled, the oven was pulled from the wall and the laundry shoot was exposed. Soon Ted rejoined the family and regaled us all with tales of his adventure.

My family as a whole seemed blessed with a spirit of serving. The two aunts with the cans of Budweiser were among them. One worked as a teacher at a school for the deaf and the other was the first female to hold a political office it the State of Illinois.

Volunteering: A Christmas Lesson

Volunteer firefighters give service to the community.

I don’t remember much else about that day.  We celebrated Christmas, opened presents and enjoyed dinner. But, that day was a pivotal point for many of us grandkids. We were involved in a real life rescue.   Almost all of those older boys have gone on to join the fire department as volunteers; one serves as Fire Chief. The girls became volunteers as well, including serving on a suicide prevention hotline. And I work as the volunteer coordinator at Humility of Mary Housing. I know how critical it is to get people to help and how lives can be changed and influenced by those who serve.  And Ted? Ted went on to help build an IT business with his brother; he is now semi-retired and doing philanthropic work.

Volunteering takes so little from us and rewards us greatly in many ways we can’t begin to count or see.  I hope this Christmas story has brought a smile and revived humorous memories of your own.  As we wind down 2015 and look towards 2016, I hope you will place volunteerism on your must-do list for 2016. We need all the hands we can get! Call me to set up a time to discuss, 563-326-1330. Happy Holidays!

Volunteer! Join the cause

Volunteers of all ages help us address homelessness, supporting the work of Humility of Mary Housing, Inc. in many ways. Volunteer help could range from direct action with participating families, to helping maintain properties or working to raise funding for programs.

yardwork volunteerOver the past year dozens and dozens of volunteers have contributed hundreds of volunteer hours at HMHI. This represents an outpouring of community support. Volunteers are a pillar of strength that allow HMHI to continue its important mission in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

Your contribution is most welcome! Visit the volunteer page, or contact the volunteer director for more information. Both individual and group opportunities are available.

ambrose urban plunge
St. Ambrose University Urban Plunge students donated a morning of labor, Fall 2015. “We absolutely enjoyed the day and would like to thank you for the opportunity to help,” they said.
volunteers serving food
Volunteers serve hot dogs at HMHI’s annual Family Night at the Family Museum event in Bettendorf, IA, June 2012.