Monday, December 22, 2008

Motivational Monday (Dec. 22)

Guess what's three days from now? Yeah, Christmas. It's one of my favorite days of the year, and has become so particularly now that I have children. They love the season and the newness of it all and I am just having fun soaking it all in. So how does that translate into motivation? Well, easily actually. If and when I think of my girls while I run, it usually drives me to snap back to attention or continue plowing through.

But that's not necessarily the theme of today's Motivational Monday post. No, Christmas actually brings back a great memory that is quite motivational for me and always has been. I don't remember the specific year this incident happened but I'm guessing it was 1986 or so, give or take. And it really brought everything home to me about the season and the spirit of giving.

Growing up, we were poor. Dirt poor. We grew up living in a trailer on a dairy farm in Temecula. Now, if you're not familiar with Temecula, it's a thriving community of maybe 70,000 people on the southwestern edge of Riverside County. It's about an hour drive from San Diego and about 40 minutes from Riverside. But back in the 1980s, it was just a small little town, probably had about 15,000 residents. I actually remember calling it Rancho California and preferred that name.

We moved out there when I was five as my dad got a job as a dairy hand. His job was simple: herd up the cows, take them to the stalls, stick machines on the cow's nipples, flip a switch and milk them. It was a rather nondescript job, about as far from glorious as you can get. He worked split shifts, going in from 9 am to 2-3 pm and then going in at 9 pm until 2-3 am, worked six days a week and did so for many, many years.

Our trailer was pretty shabby, consisting of a kitchen, living room, bathroom and bedroom. In the bedroom we had a bunk bed and I slept on the bottom bunk, my older brother on the top while my parents shared their mattress, which lay on the ground with no box springs or frame, with my younger brother. Five Buenos crammed into one room. I didn't know any different so to me that was normal. We had no phone, no cable TV, nothing fancy. We had a VCR but didn't get one until the late 80s. To me, fancy was having your own room. I couldn't imagine what it would be like to have my own room with posters and a TV and phone and toys galore.

In the heyday of our time in then-rural Temecula, we got a visit around one Christmas from Santa Claus, although he drove a pickup truck and not a sleigh pulled by reindeer. I remember the scene vividly. I was playing with some toys in the living room and my mom was washing dishes in the kitchen. It was sometime in the morning when we heard a truck pull up to the big dirt patch in front of our trailer. My mom asked who it was. I told her it was Santa Claus. She was irritated and asked me to stop playing. Just then, Santa knocked on our door. She went and opened it - a big, sliding glass door - and Santa handed her a sack of gifts. He said "Merry Christmas," walked back to his truck and drove off.

My mom had tears in her eyes; my brother and I were super excited. We had a big bag of gifts, wonderful gifts, and we were going to open them all up, every last one of them. And once we finally opened the toys, I believe on Christmas day, I was in heaven. There were toys that I liked, toys I longed for and I had them at my disposal. My favorite was a blue Corvette transformer named Tracks. It was great, although back then I believe I described it as radical. We had so much fun opening those gifts. Some of them weren't the best but we enjoyed them all nevertheless.

Looking back on it now, it probably was some sort of gift drive held by some sort of local group or charity who targeted poor people. That was us, poor people, though we were happy nonetheless. The enormous generosity displayed that day and during that season did not truly sink in until years later. When you are 10, you just don't have that kind of perspective. Now, though, I understand how generous and kind people can be and how much of a difference things like that make in people's lives.

I'd like to think that molded me in some way, that that incident helped me realize generous acts can go a long way. In my own life, I've done a lot of things that took time and effort and had little immediate payback. For instance, I mentored at an elementary school for a year when I was in my early 20s and tried to be a good role model to the children I was assigned to. That year was all about giving back to the poor, to a community of children who were happy to receive attention and whatever small gifts we could provide. And in general, I always try to be generous and take an extra minute whenever I can to help people.

Now with children of my own, I try to show them that life isn't all about the material things, that it's nice to give and share. They're too young for this now but I want to start a tradition one Christmas. I want to take them out to a store and have them pick a toy they really want to get, no matter the price. Then, I want to have them take that toy, brand new, unwrapped, and donate it to a similar charity as the one that helped me out so many years ago. They might balk at first, might force me to pry the toy away from their hands, but in the end they will learn first hand about the spirit of giving, learn how much they can impact others' lives.

That story is so inspirational to me that I only need to think about it for a brief amount of time to get motivated, really to do anything.


5thsister said...

Yes, indeed. A very inspirational story. Back in the late 80's, I worked sales at a home care company. We decided, instead of a Christmas party, that we would adopt a needy family. We contacted the local social services agency for help. They found a family very similar to yours: parents and young children living in a dilapidated trailer. We brought them food and gifts. The children were all bug eyed and asked my colleague (a rather large man with a red beard) "Are you Santa Claus?" That year, we all were! Thank you for this wonderful story and the memories it stirred within me. Merry Christmas.

La Gitana said...

A very inspiring story and very vividly told too, your parents have raised you well to instill such strong beliefs. The company I work for adopts families from a local Women's Shelter and not just at Christmas, but all year through, we raise funds to help these women and children move on and away from a very violent past. The look on their faces provides us with such huge satisfaction that it is hard to describe. Thank you Luis for a beautifully told "historia"... Merry Christmas to you and your family!