Yeah, so it's a Christmas story, yeah so it's kind of long, yeah so this isn't even a post I wrote, but damn it, if I have to read this story and get eyes full of tears sitting at my desk and deal with the confused glances of co-workers, then you can nut up and read it too. It's only fair. So read it, read the whole thing if you can at all, and remember what it feels like to believe in something.
Reprinted in toto: Our Christmas letter
I just couldn’t bear to actually send this out because it’s so long-winded, but it’s a good story:
‘Twas the week before Christmas….and we had to decide what to give to Brian’s brother Pat, his wife Mary, and their 5 kids (they have 5, we have 5, we match!) In the Burch family, we “pick names” for Christmas, so we only had this one present to get. And this year, in an effort to “simplify” (i.e. make cheaper), we all decided the present had to be something homemade. So we got the brilliant idea to make an outdoor nativity scene out of wood. We’d seen one around the neighborhood, just a 2-dimensional, white silhouette made out of plywood. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, a bare outline of a stable, and oh yeah, two little sheep…no problem. What a great family project, we thought. Even the kids can help make it. It will truly be a thoughtful gift from our whole family to theirs, expressing the true meaning of Christmas. Perfect!
“Shall I order the pattern off the internet?” I asked Brian. “Nah”, he replied, “It’s so easy we can just draw it”. “Us?” I replied with a raised eyebrow, “with our artistic talent?” We both had a good laugh. “Ok, then, we’ll get John to help us draw it”. Well, it turned out that we walked down the block to a neighbor who had the nativity scene in his front yard and asked if we could trace his. Luckily, he had kept the pattern, so we borrowed it. With some carbon paper, a sheet of plywood, and a pencil, we soon had everything drawn and ready to cut out (in our living room). Bridget and Sara helped Brian with the tracing, Sam kept running over the plywood to make sure it stayed level, Therese and Hopi borrowed carbon paper and traced American Girls out of the catalog, and Martin poked his nose out of his book to offer occasional advice. Then Brian and the twins headed out to the garage to start the cutting. Despite frigid temperatures, Brian managed to hold the jigsaw steady and make all the cuts. It turned out beautifully. We were a little surprised at how nice it looked! A few slaps of white paint and it was ready to go.
Hmmmm…. how are we going to get it to Phoenix? This thought had occurred to us before, but we had glossed over it, sure that the thing wasn’t that big. It really is a modest size, which was one reason we had tackled the project in the first place. But once it was finished, we realized we didn’t have a box big enough. It was about 48″ x 48″ by 1/2″. “Don’t worry,” said Brian, “with enough cardboard and tape, I can make a box.” And sure enough, the resourceful man did it. So the package was ready to go. Plenty of time to get it to the post office for Christmas delivery. But I thought of something - our friends the Altosinos had asked us to take them to the airport for their flight to Phoenix the next day. Maybe they could just take the package with them on the plane. Sure, they said, we wouldn’t mind. So I checked on the internet for Southwest Airlines baggage restrictions. Uh-oh… if it’s over 60 inches (length plus width plus height) it counts as oversize baggage, and if it’s between 60 and 80 inches, it’ll cost $50. We had hoped not to have to spend that much, and besides it was even over 80 inches, so I checked out the US Postal Service website - their size allowance was larger, and since the package wasn’t very heavy, I was sure we could mail it for less than $50.
So on Tuesday, Dec. 18, the crazy day began. Last day of school for the kids - special fancy clothes for everyone, teacher gifts, casserole for the Christmas luncheon, frenzy of last day…. then a slight break before the afternoon rush - Therese had her Irish dance party, Martin had basketball, and we had a trip to the post office to make. So about 3:30, Sara loaded up all the kids for the short drive to the post office. Martin helped me lug the package, huge and unwieldy, inside, while strangers looked at us with incredulous smiles. When it was our turn, the lady at the counter rolled her eyes and shook her head. “I checked your website,” I said, “I think it’s small enough”. She brought her tape measure around and proceed to measure the length plus GIRTH (twice width plus twice height). Doh! It was 162″ and the post office won’t take anything over 130″. “Even at a cheaper/slower rate?” I asked. “Nope, not at all”, she said. Back to the car we went. At home, I looked up the UPS rules - they would definitely take it, I saw, and when I plugged in the numbers to their rate calculator, it didn’t look bad - maybe only $20-$30. Just in case, I called Southwest to talk to an actual person. “You’re sure there’s no way you can take it?” ” No way,” they assured me.
Fine, let’s go to UPS. Load up everybody, coats, boots, present for Irish dance teacher, grab bag present, drinks for party, let’s go. It’s dark by now, 5:15, rush hour. It takes so long to get to UPS that I know Therese is going to be late for her party. Oh well, I’ve got to get this package on it’s way or it’s not going to get there for Christmas! So this time Bridget helps me inside and the UPS guys greet us with “Whoa! Where you goin’ with that?” “Phoenix!” I say cheerfully, sure that this time, we’re almost done… they hand me a label to fill out, and then I pull out my credit card. “That’ll be $119.65″ the friendly guy tells me. “What?! Isn’t there any cheaper way?” No, they explain that the odd shape and size make it the equivalent of a 90 pound package. “I’m sorry,” I mumble, “I just can’t do that”. And Bridget and I stumble back to the car again. Now I’m holding back tears. I don’t know what to do. I hate to call Brian and give him the bad news. Maybe we should just give up, I think. Maybe we just can’t get this thing to Phoenix. It was stupid of us not to figure this out ahead of time. I don’t know how it’ll work unless we cut it up into a bunch of smaller pieces, which would just about ruin it. I’m so discouraged, but I say a little prayer, “Jesus, I trust in you”. Somehow, I know it will work out.
I drop Therese off and we head home, wolf down some chili, and then get back in the car to take Martin to basketball. I call Brian and explain. He’s on the train on his way home to pick up his car and head right to take the Altosinos to the airport. “Maybe you should just take it with you to the airport and TRY to get it on the plane with them,” I say. “There’s no way they’ll take it,” he replies, but after discussing our options, he decides it’s worth a try. I’m confident in Brian’s resourcefulness, and remind him to grease a palm if he has to. I keep thinking there must be a reason that we’re taking somebody to the airport to go to Phoenix on this day we’re trying to mail this ridiculous package there. I’m hoping somehow this is God’s Providence. So we drop off the package at his car, which is parked by the train station. Then on our way again, I say to the kids, “Ok, guys, we just have to PRAY, that somehow Daddy gets the package on the plane. Who’s the patron saint of shipping? Let’s say a memorare” So we do, and then I add, St. Joseph, pray for us. St. Rita (patron saint of hopeless causes), pray for us. St. Therese, pray for us.” “Why St. Therese?” asks Bridget. “I don’t know, she’s just a good saint. Help us get the package to Phoenix and send us some roses, St. Therese”
Skip ahead a few hours. After more back and forth, I’m picking up the last kid at the McCormacks’ house. When I mention the day I’ve had, they strongarm me into coming in for a drink. As I pour out the whole saga, they sympathize and Patrick reminds us that despite all the hectic frenzy of the season, we have so much to be thankful for. Then we get a call from Brian. He’s on his way home from the airport and says he’s going to stop and do a little shopping. Almost afraid to bring up a sore subject, I say, “you didn’t get the package sent, did you?” “First of all,” he replies, “WHO DID YOU PRAY TO?!” He tells me how he carefully planned out his approach with the Altosinos and brought the package up to the skycap’s stand. After giving their name and flight, the skycap gave Brian a weird look and he thought, great, this is not going to go well. “Altosino? Hank Altosino?” the skycap says. “Um, yeah?” Brian responds. It turns out the skycap grew up with Mr. Altosino right around Midway airport. “Sure we’ll get it on the plane for ya! I’ll walk it right down there!” We thought we’d be lucky to get away with the $50 fee, but they didn’t charge us anything!
We were so excited. I told the kids and they were so happy. What a wonderful lesson for them - to have their prayers answered so quickly and clearly! We were giddy with relief. “But we didn’t get any roses from St. Therese,” said Bridget. Martin replied that maybe Pat and Mary would send us a thank you note with roses on it. But who cares? We got the answer to our prayers! We got the present on it’s way without having to pay a million dollars! We went home and got the kids to bed, but before they were asleep, Brian came home. And what do you think he brought? You guessed it, ROSES. A lady in his office had given him something as he was leaving and he hadn’t even opened it up to look at it. But it turned out to be a tiny little church with snow all around it and a miniature nativity scene in front of it, surrounded by evergreens and three giant red roses. The kids all jumped out of bed and rushed downstairs to see this second affirmation that indeed, our prayers had been heard and answered. St. Therese is alive and well and so close to us.
We are so grateful for all our blessings this Christmas, especially our faith. Thank you God, and Blessed Mother. Thank you St. Joseph, St. Rita, and St. Therese! Thank you to all our good friends and family who love us and whom we love in return - thank you McCormacks and Altosinos! We wish all of you a joyous Christmas season and a blessed New Year. May your lives be filled with grace and may you recognize that the saints are all around us.
Brian, Sara, Martin, Bridget, Therese, Mary Hope, and Sam
That's it. Now go have a great effing weekend, and God bless you.