It's an old story. Two little boys are sitting on a curb and one is going on about all the things his older brother, already a full-grown man with a good job, has given him. A new baseball mitt, new sneakers, a new bicycle, even a trip to Disney.
"Gee," the other boy says after hearing all of this, "I wish someday … I wish someday I could be a brother like that."
It's a classic tale of giving being better than receiving. And this is a classic time of year to afford ourselves that great pleasure. It's easy, too. Each of us can be "a brother (or sister) like that" simply by placing a donation in a Salvation Army red kettle. The folks at the Salvation Army will do the rest.
Believe me, I know. I've been watching the Salvation Army folks perform Christmas miracles since I was named to the board in 1984. They take all those quarters and dimes and nickels and pennies, and yes, the dollars or five dollar bills, and occasional 10s or even 20s, and provide Christmas for local families who otherwise would not have one. Every cent is put to good use.
My entrée to the Salvation Army came by way of a call from Thomas R. Davis, since deceased, who ran a West Pittston hardware store. "Ed," he began, "you strike me as an altruistic guy …" and I began to wonder where this was going. I soon found out.
While it may seem I am making this up, the previous Christmas I got wind of a man and his pregnant wife trying to make their way from the south back to their native Vermont, winding up stranded in Wyoming Valley with no money, and being directed to the Salvation Army in West Pittston.
The Salvation Army fed them, put them up in a motel for the night, and bought them two bus tickets the next morning. It didn't take a genius to recognize the Christmas column opportunity in that story and my writing it is what prompted Tom Davis' phone call.
I often tell of my first board meeting when, after hearing the treasury report from Jimmy Condosta, also since deceased, and the meager cash on hand balance of maybe $285, if that, I looked up to find Major Bertha Harris staring right into my eyes from across the table. "Now you know what you've gotten yourself into," her eyes seemed to say.
At 35, I was the kid on the board, surrounded by some of the most beautiful souls I have ever met. Betty Miller was the legendary president and it became a schtick that at every Christmas party she would introduce her husband Coray by saying, "And you all know my good husband Coray." To which someone, probably Jimmy Condosta, would shout, "Did you leave your bad husband at home?"
"Good" was the perfect adjective for Coray Miller. He and I manned many a red kettle together during the Christmas season and it was always a pleasure, although he could get a bit uncharacteristically aggressive when urging shoppers not to pass us by without donating. He'd actually run after people.
Sadly, Coray is long gone. So is my other long-time bell-ringing partner, Jay Delaney. But three years ago when Jay took ill, his granddaughter, Kristie Adonizio, stepped up to take his place. I remember thinking at the time, and then writing about it later, why would this beautiful 20-something, who likes nothing better than hitting the ski slopes, want to spend her time hanging out with an old guy like me at a Salvation Army kettle? When I asked her just that, she responded, "He's my grandpa. It will be an honor."
Kristie is not the first pretty girl to join me at a kettle, however. That distinction goes to my great-niece and goddaughter Hannah Kern. And of course her mom, Katrina, who often comes along.
This will be Hannah's 10th year ringing a bell alongside me. A junior at Holy Redeemer High School, she first joined me when she was in second grade. That was the year I learned about Ugg boots. Hannah was wearing a pair and while my feet were freezing, hers were nice and toasty. Then she told me she wasn't even wearing socks.
Come to think of it, as the years have gone by, Hannah never appears cold no matter the temperature and no matter how long we are out there. Neither does Kristie. Meanwhile, my teeth will be chattering the whole time. You don't think it has anything to do with my age, do you?
If you'd like to hear those chattering teeth for yourself, please stop by and see us next Saturday, Dec. 21. Hannah, and most likely Katrina, and maybe even my sister Sheila Kern, Hannah's grandma, and I will be at Redner's in Pittston from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. I will then head to Walmart on Route 315 for a 4 to 8 p.m. shift. I might be flying solo for that one. Kristie and I will team up back at Redner's on Dec. 23 from 4 to 8 p.m. Stop by, or just place a donation in any red kettle you see. It's an easy way to share in the joy of being a brother or a sister "like that."