Early one autumn morning as I sat shivering on the cold brick planter in front of my home, I wondered how I ended up locked out of the house wearing nothing but a pink fuzzy bathrobe. I didn’t even have slippers to warm my icy feet or a towel to wrap up my dripping, wet hair. Here’s the CliffsNotes version: It all began, like most of my misadventures, with the start of the holiday season.
Like many others this time of year, I’m on overload. Between family gatherings, parties, decorating, baking, and, of course, searching South Coast Plaza and Bella Terra for the perfect decorations and gifts, I need more energy. But this particular year, my batteries ran out of juice, plus I caught a nasty cold, which started a chain of events that nearly spelled disaster for my holiday party plans.
After a week with a hideous cough, I’d become well-acquainted with a repulsive cough syrup advertised as berry flavored, but only if the berries had fermented in a dumpster for a month. Though it worked, it made me loopy. When I drove my husband’s car on a Friday night, I forgot to turn off the headlights. Of course, when he got up Saturday morning, his battery was dead.
After some grumbling—OK, a lot of grumbling—he used my car to jump his and once again all was right in my world. My husband went to McDonald’s for his regular morning coffee, and I got ready for my writer’s club big holiday meeting.
When I finished my shower, I noticed my key ring was not in its usual place. I searched the house and realized my husband must have left my keys in my car. I dashed out to the driveway to check, but the keys weren’t there.
When I turned to go back into the house, the front door was locked. If there is a more helpless feeling than being locked out of your house, it’s being locked out of your house wearing nothing but a pink fuzzy bathrobe.
Since we have no hidden key under a garden gnome, I figured I’d call my husband to ask if he’d accidentally taken both sets of keys. Then it hit me. My phone was in the house. No problem, the neighbor across the street—my designated cat feeder—has a copy of my house key.
I barefooted it to her door and rang the bell. Her three rat terriers yapped themselves silly, but no one answered.
Panic rising, I tried my next-door neighbor. Not home. And the neighbor on the other side. Not home.
With time ticking away, I wondered how I could fix this. But my mind went blank, probably aided by the above-mentioned cough syrup.
I started freaking out. I’m president of the writer’s club, and our holiday party and open mic were starting in less than an hour. Besides running the show, I was bringing the plates, napkins, name badges, sign-up sheet, and my famous mint chocolate cookies. I couldn’t let down the 40 people depending on me. We meet at the Orange Public Library, a 35-minute drive from my house in Huntington Beach, which meant I had 25 minutes before I had to leave. I’ll just have to walk to McDonald’s, I thought.
The restaurant is on the corner of Beach Boulevard and Robidoux Drive, less than a mile away. But I was barefoot and wearing a fuzzy pink bathrobe. Can you say crazy woman? So I scratched that possibility off my short list of options.
Then I remembered a woman several houses down whom I’d met about 20 years ago at a Halloween block party. I ran to her house—as fast as bare feet can move on old blacktop—and knocked on her door. She answered in her fuzzy bathrobe.
“Hi, I’m Pam,” I said. “I live at the end of the street.”
“Yes, I know you,” she said.
“Great! I have a huge favor to ask you.” I explained the situation and she said, “No problem,” and handed me her phone.
I felt like an idiot when I said, “I don’t know my husband’s cell phone number. It’s programmed into my phone. Which is locked in my house.” And though normally I’m not one to ask for help, I said, “Could you drive to McDonald’s and get my husband? He’ll be the one reading a pink newspaper.” I was pretty sure no one else in his morning coffee crowd read the Financial Times.
“Sure,” she said without hesitation. Less than 10 minutes later, my husband drove up our driveway. With my neighbor’s generous gift of her time, I made my meeting with minutes to spare. Afterward, I went to her house to give her a plate of my mint chocolate cookies.
“Oh, that wasn’t necessary,” she said.
“Yes, it was,” I insisted. “It was so kind of you to come to my rescue.”
“Well, I was happy to do it.”
And she really was. I only needed to say “I’m your neighbor,” and she sprang into action. The gift of her time demonstrated the true spirit of the season—giving to those in need.
This reminded me of other memorable holidays. One year, my sister and I got together for some last-minute shopping. It was pouring rain that day, and my wiper blades were clearly outmatched. The rubber parts had split so that each sweep of the blades simply dragged thin strips of hanging rubber across the windshield. Glenn, my auto mechanic brother-in-law, a gruff man of few words, saw this and said, “That’s not safe.”
The next day after work, I got to my car and found a note under my new wiper blades. “I replaced them, Glenn.” The parking lot was huge. He must have spent an hour or two looking for my car. I wasn’t even sure he liked me, and now his concern and kindness overwhelmed me. For the first time, I felt love from him. It reminded me of a saying: “Love is born through the giving of kindness.” That’s when I realized that time is not money. It’s worth a lot more.
This was demonstrated again last year. I’m one of those people who becomes depressed around the holidays, so my sister decided I needed some cheer. Her solution: tickets to the Messiah Sing Along at the Nixon Library. Spending the afternoon in a lovely setting, standing beside my sister, belting out “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” lifted my spirits. Those hours were time well spent, and we have vowed to make this a tradition.
I can’t recall what holiday gifts I received last year, but I will always remember my neighbor driving to McDonald’s to retrieve my husband, my brother-in-law replacing my wiper blades, and my sister standing beside me singing “Hallelujah!” When I was in need, they gave me kindness and their time—the most precious gifts of all.
I now aim to make this season about kindness, not kitsch, about traditions, not trinkets. I just hope that locking myself out of the house doesn’t also become a tradition.