December 24, 1976 A Short Story
Detective Carl Hardin sat at his desk typing a supplemental report about two o'clock on Christmas Eve, 1976 while Elvis declared that he would be home for Christmas on a small radio behind him. Hardin was the duty detective at the Lancaster Police Department. The married guys were off.
The black phone on his desk rang as the local button flashed. Someone inside the building was calling.
"Ho, Ho, Ho," Hardin said after he punched the button to answer.
"You want to go pass out care packages at Palmetto Street Apartments, Hardin?" Patrol Captain Strickland asked.
Every year local charities, churches and the food bank sent out "gift" packages to the more unfortunate in the City's public housing section. The Lancaster Police Department's Patrol Division and any working staff usually handled the delivery of the bags.
"I'd rather go to the dentist," Hardin said.
"Hey, Chief," Strickland spoke loudly. "Hardin says he'd rather go to the dentist."
"I'll be right down," Hardin said and after hanging up the phone he mumbled "What a prick."
When Hardin got downstairs he found three vans full of Christmas cheer being unloaded into two squad cars, the Crime Scene van and the Captain's Crown Vic. He pulled his unmarked car around and popped the trunk.
"You get the twenty-five hundred block and Merry Christmas," said a rosy cheeked man Hardin assumed was the Catholic priest because he was wearing a black suit with a white collar. He handed Hardin a stack of index cards bearing the name and apartment numbers of the intended recipients. Each of the twelve cards corresponded to a paper bag, or sometimes two or three, that were to be delivered.
"Bah, humbug," Hardin said but he grinned and helped put the stuff in his trunk.
Hardin's last delivery, for the Rucker family, was at apartment 2506 and he found a parking spot right in front. Hardin took the last two bags to a door that was cracked at the bottom, warped at the top, and that needed painting all over. A skinny boy about ten opened it when he knocked.
"Merry Christmas," Hardin said. The kid simply shrugged and yelled up the stairs for his mother before heading back to into the room to watch TV. Hardin waited on the concrete stoop in the cold for Mrs. Rucker to come down, then followed her into the kitchen with the bags. He sat them on a wooden table that wobbled under the weight
"This is great!" she said, pulling bags of flour, sugar, and cornbread mix out of one bag. She found a small canned ham, green beans and yams in the bottom. Hardin watched as she poked around in the second bag that contained some cheap candy, nuts, and a bag of apples and oranges.
"Thank you, Officer."
"Carl, ma'm," Hardin said. "Just call me Carl. Hope you have a good Christmas."
"We will," she said. In her eyes, Hardin saw a spark of dignity and determination. He nodded and headed out of the kitchen.
In the den he paused to look at the little tree. The homemade garland drew his attention. It had been made out of rings of cut up white notebook paper, colored with scraps of crayon, and held together with glue made from a paste of flour and water. Hardin knew all this because he had made garland the same way when he was a kid. Two strings of lights adorned the tree. Most of the lights worked. Two small presents lay under the cedar tree.
"Hope Santa brings you something special," Hardin said to the kid who was ignoring him and staring at Mr. Magoo and the Ghost of Christmas Past in living black and white on an old portable TV.
"Santa's about as likely to show up here as the old man," the kid said. He looked up from the set. "I do wish he'd bring my little sister a doll though."
He pointed upstairs where his sister peered down at them both with big brown eyes. Hardin couldn’t help but think of a baby he had taken into protective custody about a month before.
"Santa, I mean," the kid said. "Not the old man." He rolled his eyes.
"You never know," Hardin said but Mrs. Rucker had walked up behind her son and slowly shook her head.
Hardin stepped out into the cold Christmas afternoon, turned his collar to the wind and walked to his car. He backed out of his spot and when he dropped his car into drive one of the index cards slipped off the dash into his lap.
It was the card assigned to the Rucker family. He glanced at it, then folded it and stuck it in his shirt pocket. The little girl had asked for a doll and the son wanted a guitar. Hardin sighed and headed out of the projects.
Darkness fell a few hours later as Hardin pulled up in front of the pawn shop. Christmas Eve had managed to do something across the street that the cops had failed to do for years; bring peace and tranquility to the pool hall, the taxi stand and other juke joints. He took the two coffees he had picked up and made his way into the store where no customers waited.
"Hey, Carl," Jimmy said when Hardin sat the bag down on the counter and pulled out the coffee. His had cream, the other just sugar. The two were friends and Hardin hung out there so much he often sat behind the glass cases on a stool with the owner. Today was no different and the two men talked as Jimmy prepared to close.
"Wish I'd seen old lady Steele's face when you bought that black doll at the Five and Dime," Jimmy said. He sipped his coffee and then continued putting the handguns in his safe for the night.
"I told her it was for my daughter," Hardin said and handed a used Colt Commander, a six inch blue steel Model 29 Smith, and then a Browning High Power to Jimmy who slid each into the safe. "Then I told her I was kidding and, when she looked relieved, I told her it was for my sister."
Jimmy laughed, pushed the heavy black door shut. He twirled the dial. "So you're taking the doll back to Palmetto on your way home?"
"Thought I'd wait till about ten tonight when I'm pretty sure the kids will be asleep," Hardin said. "Wish I could've got a guitar for the son, they were out."
"Turn the sign around on the door for me, will you. I'll get the lights."
As Hardin walked to the front door most of the overhead lights winked out. He flipped the sign on the door to CLOSED and wandered back to wait.
Jimmy reappeared carrying an odd shaped box wrapped in brown shipping paper. He slid it down the glass counter. "Here, Merry Christmas."
"We don't do presents," Hardin said but he knew what it was before he opened it. The shiny red child size guitar gleamed in the remaining light.
"Guy ordered this but never picked it up," Jimmy said.
"I'll tell Mrs. Rucker who sent it," Hardin said.
"I'd rather you didn't" Jimmy said. "Every loser in Lancaster will show up looking for a handout."He got a plain piece of paper and scribbled "From Santa" at the bottom with a felt tipped pen.
"That might be a pretty long line," Hardin said.
"For sure," Jimmy said, pen in hand. "What's the son's name?"
Hardin pulled the folded index card out of his shirt pocket to check the spelling.
"It's Rucker' he said. "Darius Rucker."
- The Christmas Song by Hootie & The Blowfish - YouTube
Music of The Christmas Song by Hootie & The Blowfish
- Darius Rucker - "Winter Wonderland" ((CMA Country Christmas 2011)) - YouTu
CMA Country Christmas 2011
For the record: Darius Rucker never lived in Lancaster, S. C. and has never even been here as far as I know. He was born in 1966, so he would have been ten in 1976 - but that's about it for facts in this fiction.
Also, I wrote this after I read Willstar's excellent Christmas story (linked below).
- An Exchange of Gifts - A Christmas Short Story
Suffering from a stubborn case of writer's block, an author unexpectedly exchanges gifts with an old friend.