By Louis De Lauro
So an ordinary man was teaching a juggling class at a community center in central New Jersey. It was a few days before Christmas. Most of his students were Jewish and Chinese-American. When the kind man said goodnight to his class he wished everyone, “Merry Holidays!”
It was snowing pretty hard that night at 7:30 pm and the man couldn’t wait to get home. He walked to his car—wait, make that his wife’s car that he borrowed for the day—and the tired man (a talented juggler) clumsily dropped the key on the cement. The key broke in half. He paused, picked up the broken key and examined it.
He wanted to get home, so he tried to start the car with the small part of the broken key. Not only did the small part not start the car, but it got stuck in the ignition. The frustrated man took three deep breaths and spent two difficult minutes prying out the broken key.
Then the desperate man called AAA, only to find out a car locksmith would cost $350 or more to come out and it might take 2-3 hours to get to him. The poor man didn’t have much money and decided he needed another plan. Could his wife get him? No, she was nearly an hour away watching his daughter. She had been very sick recently, and he did not want her to drive out in the snow.
He needed a plan, so he wrote one in his head. He took three more deep breaths and then he called his childhood hero, his Dad, and told him he needed a bit of help. And here’s what happened next:
The man with a plan walked five minutes to a grocery store. He went to the ATM and took out the last $60 in his bank account. A Christmas shopping spree earlier in the week had depleted his account. He then called a cab to pick him up at the grocery store. 10 minutes later a cab pulled up. The cabby was friendly, and when the man told him about the broken key, the cabby gave him a great rate to the train station which was 10 minutes away. The appreciative man paid the cabby $5 and told him he would tip him on the return trip and then he took the cabby’s card so he could call him later.
At the train station, the kind-hearted man noticed a few homeless men. He gave one man a dollar and saw the man was wearing a windbreaker on a cold, snowy night. This bothered the thoughtful man.
After a 10 minute wait, the eager man got on a train. The train traveled 40 minutes south. The weary man got off the train; waiting for him was his hero, his 73-year-old dad. His dad drove him to visit Mom. He told his parents about his broken key, hugged his mom, charged his phone, and drank some coffee. He thought to himself, “This is a strange visit, but it’s great to see my parents a few days before we get together for our big Italian Christmas.” It was now 9:20 at night and there was still more to do.
So, the clever man then borrowed his dad’s car and drove to his own home 30 minutes away. He stopped for gas and spent $10 to fill up his dad’s tank. When he got home, he went inside and hugged his wife (who made sure to roll her eyes at him). Then he kissed his daughter goodnight, grabbed a second coat from the closet, and most importantly grabbed another key for his wife’s car, and then he left.
He then drove back to his parent’s house. His dad came out of the house, shaking his head and smiling. His dad got in the driver’s seat and drove him back to train station which was only a few minutes away. It was now almost 10:30. The exhausted man took three deep breaths. Yes, it was still snowing, but the roads seemed safe. The snow wasn’t really sticking! And he enjoyed spending time with his dad.
At the train station, the grateful man gave his dad a huge hug and thanked him repeatedly. His dad said, “You will always be my boy.” The middle-aged man thought, “I’m 47 years old; I’m so lucky to have a caring Dad.” The now slightly more relaxed man took a train back to the station that was closest to his wife’s car.
At the station, he found the homeless man in the windbreaker and gave him the big brown winter coat that he’d brought from home. The coat was a perfect fit for the homeless man! The homeless man grabbed the generous man and said, “God Bless You, Merry Christmas!”
Now the joyful man walked outside into the snow. He took three deep breaths. It was so beautiful outside. The snow was fresh, and the sky was clear; his cabby was waiting. He rode back to the community center with the cabby to pick up his wife’s car. He gave the cabby $5 to pay for the fare and a $10 tip. After the two train rides and the two cab rides, he was now officially broke; Christmas was a few days away, and his account was empty.
But his mind was full; filled with accomplishment and Christmas cheer. Filled with good thoughts. In his hand, he tightly clutched the key he brought from home. The man took three deep breaths and he was pleased when the key started his wife’s car. Then he drove home.
During the drive home, it didn’t stop snowing. The happy man played Christmas songs on the radio and sang along. He opened the front door of his home and looked at his phone: it was midnight! He was broke. He spent nearly 5 hours traveling on a snowy night.
He took three breaths and sat down on the couch and thought about his wonderful night. It felt so special. It felt like a magical Christmas night! He loved this night. He thought, “One day I will write about this night.”
I’m glad I got to share my Christmas story with you. Merry Holidays and Happy Christmas! And hold onto your keys!
Note: In the spirit of the holidays, the car dealership gave me a free replacement key a few days later. Life is good!
Louis De Lauro has taught elementary and middle school students for 27 years in NJ and PA. He is also a loving husband, dad, son, and friend. In April of 2017, his short story about his wife and daughter “Right from the Start” was published in “Chicken Soup for the Soul, Best Mom Ever.” Back in 2007, Louis was featured in the award-winning documentary “Juggling Life” about the charity he founded, Juggling Life Inc. The charity recruits and trains volunteers to teach juggling and chess at camps for children with cancer. In 2008, he was featured in a Star Ledger Series called “I Am New Jersey.” In 2011, Louis had four submissions published in the Pearson textbook, “Child and Adolescent Development” by Woolfolk and Perry. Louis enjoys writing about teaching, family, friendship, and Buddhism.
Photos: “My Broken Key” by Louis De Lauro & (source)
Editor: John Lee Pendall