A Christmas Story: The Salvation Army and Paying It Forward

A Christmas Story: The Salvation Army and Paying It Forward

Another of my favorite old memories I love to recount!

This time of year I remember an experience I had many years ago as a teenager. My sister Judy, our Greek American Fields Service sister Charoula, and I were visiting our Uncle Rufus in Chicago. We lived in central Illinois, so the city was an especially exciting if confounding place for us, and the three of us were exploring it by riding the “L” (elevated train). The winds blowing off Lake Michigan were bitterly cold, so cold that our nylon hose practically froze to our legs (something all girls wore in those days.) We visited the Museum of Science and Industry and did some window shopping, dodging into shops to thaw when the winds got to be too much.

We were about to ride back to my uncle’s apartment when we discovered that we were a dime short on the “L”  fare. This was utterly despairing to us, as we had simply run out of money, and there were no ATM’s in those days.  A dime was more like a dollar then, so when a man handed me the dime, I was surprised. “But how can I repay you?” I asked.  He said simply, “Just put a dime in the Salvation Army Bucket.”

I will never know what his motives were. Perhaps he was a father of teenage girls himself and took pity on us. Perhaps he was simply one of these generous spirits whose first impulse is to fill need. Whatever his motives, his act became my first experience of anonymous giving, giving that has no expectation of return or even recognition.

I cannot hear a Salvation Army bell, nor walk by the bucket, without remembering this man, and I cannot walk by without paying it forward with a dime— or a dollar/s.  He was like an angel, spreading good will. After all, generosity is contagious! For me, he still embodies the Christmas spirit.