By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)
This time of year is a great time for lots of things. Most people relish the holidays for the opportunity to visit with family and friends. Others revel in the pageantry. And, of course, there are those who like to give an receive.
Me, I like the opportunity to reflect on the year that unfolded and what made it memorable, different or poignant.
As a student at Illinois State University, I recall attending a presentation by iconic author Truman Capote. This true man of letters was diminutive, as you may know, but a giant when putting words on paper. Mr. Capote read a delightful Christmas themed short story, “A Christmas Memory,” then answered questions. I recall he was very, very engaging. And, I recall he did not have anything pleasant to say about Gore Vidal.
Here’s one Christmas memory that will resonate with me forever. It took place way back in 1978. For those unfamiliar with that time in history, there were no computers. I worked as a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago, a place I’ve blogged about before.
That Christmas I was fortunate enough to have been “promoted” to the day shift after 12 months working overnights, which is not something I would trust on anyone, aside perhaps those celluloid vampires that apparently are well en vogue these days.
Back to the story at hand. My assignment on Christmas Day 1978 was to visit the Salvation Army facility just west of downtown Chicago to do a feature piece on those who had no place to go for a Christmas meal. The Salvation Army was their only option.
Here’s what I remember. The facility, located on Ashland Avenue at Adams Street, was clean, bright and inviting. I walked into a large room and was greeted by a Salvation Army “officer” type of guy in uniform and a stunning woman who was volunteering that day. I told them the purpose of my visit, and they welcomed me to stay for a meal and speak to those unfortunate souls who had no place else to go.
The woman said she was new to Chicago and wanted to do something positive for those in need. As someone who spent every previous Christmas with family, I admired this lady for her generosity.
I spent the next hour speaking with a red-faced man named John and a native American named Fabian Bennet, who later took a turn at a piano in the room and impressed me with his ability to play ragtime music from memory. And, I stood in line, took a paper plate and plastic utensils and enjoyed turkey, dressing and vegetables. I recall the food was pretty good.
Normally, I would be having Christmas dinner with my family. This year, I dined with what used to be called “bums.” That Christmas Day, in that brightly lit room, everyone had dignity. Everyone was part of an informal family. No one was a bum.
It was a very cold Christmas Day that year, and the desk sent me to cover a fire nearby before I could write the Salvation Army piece. Fortunately, no one was injured in the blaze, and I had the good fortune of spending some time in a mobile unit sent by the Red Cross, a place where firemen — and cold reporters — could get some warmth. I called in details of the fire from a pay phone, giving a rewrite guy the information he needed to file the story before it went over the wire.
Back at the City News office at 188 West Randolph Street, I filed my story. I recall the lead was something like this: “They filtered into the West Side facility cold, hungry and a bit disillusioned about Christmas. They left warm, well fed and with a gift under their arm. They were the poor and downtrodden of Chicago who spent Christmas at the Salvation Army.”
My editor applauded my work, and I was pretty proud of it. I wrote it on a manual typewriter, which is what we used back then before there were computers. The memories of that Christmas Day in 1979 spent with those who had a lot less than me were conveyed into one of the best stories I ever filed.
If you have a Christmas memory to share, please do so. If not, have a Merry Christmas from the PRDude.