Throughout our growing-up years, my mom repeated this Christmas story to my brothers and me. I hope her story will touch your heart as it always has mine.
When I glanced across the crowded fairground, my gaze caught on a young African American man near the concessions stands. Frowning, I pointed him out to Larry. “Who is that? He seems so familiar.”
“Don’t think I know him,” was all he said.
But I couldn’t let it go. I was sure I knew the young man from somewhere, so I approached him.
“Excuse me.” I tapped him on the shoulder. “My name is Pearl Lindsley. It seems like I must know you from somewhere, but I can’t think where.”
His face creased into a smile. “Mrs. Lindsley. It’s wonderful to see you again. I was in your class at school, oh, ages ago now. I remember clearly because you went on a trip to Texas with your family and lost your luggage one Christmas, you remember that?”
In an instant, I was back to December 23, 1977, two days after Larry’s and my twelfth anniversary. Amy had only just turned 5; Ben was 8; Steve was 10. We’d loaded the kids into the station wagon for the long drive from Michigan to Abilene, Texas, for a Christmas visit with my family. We’d bundled most of our suitcases and all of our Christmas presents into a luggage carrier and strapped the bulky case to the top of the car.
We were on I-57 driving through Chicago when I heard a series of thumps that made my heart sink. “Larry!” I twisted around to peer out the back windows. “I think that was our luggage!”
The heavy traffic had turned his knuckles white against the steering wheel. “Nothing I can do about it right now. It’s a divided highway. No turn-arounds.”
Tears sprang into my eyes. “But our clothes. And the kids’ presents.” I glanced back at the silent children.
His jaw tightened. “All we can do is find an exit and come back up the northbound lane.”
At that moment, a semi truck rattled past and blared its horn. On a whim, I snatched the CB handset and asked if anybody had seen a luggage case on the side of the road. I got several negatives, along with one trucker who said I sounded pretty enough he’d be glad to pick me up off the side of the road.
Finally, Larry found a place to turn around and headed back north. We scoured the roadside, but our luggage carrier was gone.
Discouraged, we finished our drive to Texas. Although we found a few pitiful gifts for the kids in truck stops and enough clothes to make do, we didn’t have much of a Christmas that year. I even had to borrow underwear from one of my sisters.
But on New Year’s Eve, Larry’s parents called. A couple from Chicago had contacted them because they’d found a baggage case on the side of the road. One of the suitcases had been labeled with Mom and Dad Lindsley’s address and phone number. I was so thankful we hadn’t removed the tags from their last flight from the bag we’d borrowed.
We called the couple, who said they’d been on their way to Arkansas for Christmas when they found our luggage. They gave us their address and promised to hold our things until we returned.
The drive home was torture. The kids were tired and cranky, and Larry was very sick. He’d developed a urinary tract infection and had a high fever. When we finally reached the address the couple gave us, we found ourselves surrounded by graffiti-covered walls, broken windows, and homeless men warming their hands over drum fires. We were in South Chicago, the slums. The area we’d always avoided when we drove through the city.
I clutched the kids and my purse as we knocked on the door of the couple’s apartment.
A woman admitted us, her teeth white against her dark skin as she smiled. “You must be the folks that lost your luggage. Come in out of the cold.”
We followed her into a small living room. Though shabby and sparsely furnished, everything was sparkling clean, and a tiny Christmas tree graced one corner. The woman’s husband said hello and offered us seats on a rickety green sofa. A small boy and girl hid behind him, peeking out at Steve, Ben, and Amy.
“Thank you for rescuing our things.” I pressed my lips together. How poor these people must be. And the sweet children…our gifts and clothes would’ve been a godsend to them. Had they taken anything? No, that was a terrible thought. Nobody made them contact us, after all. They could’ve kept the whole load and we’d never have known.
The woman’s light peel of laughter made all the children smile. “My husband didn’t want to stop because he figured there was a bunch of trash or even a dead body in that bag, but I told him it was our Christian duty to take a look. When we saw your things, we just knew some poor family would be missing out on they Christmas. So we took the bag on home with us and called your folks when we got back from Arkansas.”
“We appreciate it,” Larry said, his face sweaty with fever.
The other man nodded. “I’ll bring your case around and help you get it hooked up so you don’t lose it again.”
As the men left the room, the woman touched my arm. “We locked that bag of yours up tight in a barrel out back so nobody would steal nothing. Never can tell what folks’ll do these days.”
“Thank you,” I murmured.
She stroked Amy’s brown curls. “Ain’t you three just precious. I’ve been longing for a peep at the young’uns what have all those presents to look forward to.” She patted Steve’s knee. “Now, who wants a drink of water? I know you’s thirsty after all that traveling.”
A little later, we loaded the children into the car. As Larry and I stood out in the cold Chicago wind to bid the couple goodbye, I felt unfriendly eyes on us, but I was no longer afraid with this good family at our side.
I offered the woman my hand. “Thank you again.”
She pulled me into a hug. “We’re just so happy the good Lord gave us a way to help.”
I blinked back tears as I climbed into my seat. Then frowned as Larry started the engine. “Wait a minute.” I lowered my window. “I don’t think I caught your name.”
“Oh, God love you, honey, I’m such a silly woman.” She chuckled. “Our name be Love.”
I couldn’t stifle my tears as we drove away. The Loves, a couple who lived in poverty, had chosen to show the love of God to us, a middle class white couple from Michigan.
We reached home hours later–after a stop at the ER for antibiotics for Larry. When I opened our luggage case, I was no longer surprised to find everything just as we’d left it. The wrapping on the Christmas presents didn’t have so much as a tiny rip, and not a single item was missing from our suitcases.
Over the next few days, I couldn’t forget what the Loves had done for us, so I stopped in at the newspaper office and told my story to a reporter. It was published the next week.
Though some mocked me for making a big deal of what happened, I always cherished the event.
Now at the fair, as my focus returned to the young African American man, I could tell by his shining eyes that he cherished it as well.
“I still have that article on my bulletin board in my office at the school where I’m a principal,” he said in a well-modulated voice that made me proud to have been his teacher. “It’s always inspired me to remember the way kindness…and love…has nothing to do with skin color or economics. Instead, it has everything to do with being the children of God.”