Before I left for my break, I told you about my new friend Alistair, a homeless man who I invited over for Christmas dinner. I promised to tell you how it went, so here is the update:
When I pick Alistair up at the shelter, he is wearing the same toothless grin as the last time I saw him. But this time, to match the grin, he has on a baby blue tuxedo circa 1970, which he tells me he received through a program run by the shelter.
“I wanted to look me best,” he says in his lovely British accent that makes everything he says sound adorable.
“Where we headed?” he asks. I tell him that we are on our way to my mom’s place and he nods happily.
When I invited Alistair for Christmas dinner, I had forgotten that it was my mom’s year to host. I called her up one day to casually mention my new friend and the fact that he, and his dog, were coming over to her place on Christmas eve. In short, it didn’t go over very well, but after a few days of prodding, she finally caved. (My sister, on the other hand, threatened to boycott the dinner entirely - but that’s a whole different story.)
When we pull into the driveway, Alistair does not seem like the same carefree man who just a few days ago was happily greeting coffee shop customers and wishing them a merry Christmas. He seems jittery… nervous. The poor guy.
“They’re going to love you,” I say, which seems to ease his nerves slightly.
Turns out Alistair has reason to be nervous.
For the first hour or so, my family is very standoffish. Especially my sister who is eyeing him as if he is a blue suited Osama Bin Laden, getting ready to blow the place up. (“There’s a bomb in the TURKEY. No one move!”) I told her a few days ago that we did a criminal records check and he passed with flying colors, but clearly this isn’t enough for her.
My mother, who has a little more class, acts friendly to Alistair, offering him seconds and asking him about his life. But just when I think she’s accepted him, she pulls me aside to point out a missing bag of croutons, which I immediately find sitting in the pantry. (You know homeless people and their love of salad fixings.)
But as the night goes on, my family warms up to Alistair, and by the end of dinner he has my whole family in stitches over some joke I don’t understand. (Something about a duffer and a git? I have no idea…)
When it comes time for opening gifts, we give Alistair his present.
“For me?” he asks doubtfully.
“Of course it’s for you. Now open it.” I tell him.
Slowly, he unwraps the packaging to find some thermal mittens, a warm hat, and a scarf. He pulls each item out and holds them carefully, as if they are delicate pieces of china given to him by the Queen.
“Thank you, me dear. This is perfect.”
“Keep digging. There’s more.” I say.
He continues to empty the box and finds three gift cards: One for groceries, one for clothes, and one to buy food for Elizabeth.
Alistair is beyond grateful and literally cannot stop thanking us.
“It’s time for a family photo,” my mother chimes.
This is the moment I dread every year. Not because I particularly dislike getting my picture taken (okay, well that too), but because my mom is the slowest person on the planet with a camera. She’ll leave you smiling there forever like an idiot, while she fumbles around trying to find the right button. (“Well, I pressed it! Why isn’t it working?”)
As everyone gathers in for the picture, I notice Alistair is sitting off to the side.
“Alistair – get in the picture!” I shout.
He shakes his head shyly. “You don’t want to spoil it with an old bugger like me.”
I insist that he joins us and finally he comes over and stands next to me.
“I haven’t had me pho-o taken in 25 years,” he whispers to me as my mom is busy fumbling with the camera.
Predictably, I start to tear up, thinking about what that really means. A photo is something we take of each other - our loved ones - to cherish and show proudly to others. We create scrapbooks, framed photo collages, and have special photos placed on cheesy mugs. When you take a photo of someone, what you are really saying is, “You matter to me. You are worth being documented and remembered.” I can’t imagine the feeling of loneliness that would come from no one wanting to take my picture for 25 years…
“Say cheese!” says my mom. “Oh wait…”
By the end of the night, it is clear that Alistair has become one of the family. Charmed by his sense of humor and positive attitude, my family (even my sister) insists that he join us again next year.
We take Alistair back to the shelter. As he gets out of the car, I become very sad, knowing that he will spend the rest of his Christmas there, and not with his own family. (I’d like to let him stay at our place, but Practical Joe has already poo pood that idea.)
“Thanks again for the gifts,” he tells me. “Especially the one of friendship. You’re me angel. Me Christmas angel.”
On the car ride home, I decide never to let another opportunity to help someone pass me by. Look what I would have missed.