Dedicated to Police Officer Trula Ann Godwin
When I think of one of the holiday presents that has meant the most to me, it is one that I received, almost as a “posthumous gift” or God Wink from my sister. After her death and after a career change for me to return to work as an advocate/counselor for domestic violence and rape sexual assault victims at a confidentially located shelter, I found myself preparing for the Christmas holidays. I had been melancholy and really having to reach deep inside to pump myself up for the festivities. This was very unusual for me when it comes to Christmas but I was now working for high risk families and the circumstances of their lives could not help but impact my own.
One night working third shift and thinking of the Christmas gifts needed to see to it that all the children in the shelter would get one, and also include their mothers, I considered that perhaps the mother’s need one equally as bad as the children. If anyone needed to experience the spirit and meaning of Christmas, it was these moms. I had seen domestic violence situations play out for years. First, in my early life and then in my career working with people through advocacy and nursing. Christmas was a tough time if you were too old to believe in Santa.
I believe my sister was looking over me that night as I was tried to focus on the holidays and how to help the children. Almost an impossible task, was my thought at that point. Then, while leafing through some papers I had brought with me from my sludge-fund collection of old newspapers , my eyes lighted up as I saw the headline of a small human interest article from a news paper.
The story had been written by a humorist and personal story teller of great repute in our area. He had been a friend of ours and as a police officer my sister Trula gave him many stories over the years. He also wrote on many of my previous clients in my work as an activist and advocate to the homeless. This current human interest story was recounting a Christmas incident my sister had told me about many years before. It was written from the perspective of her partner during that time, recounting his memories of that night. Suddenly, I knew it was the key to my holiday and had something powerful to offer in creating a momentum for the holiday ahead.
The story was written in the humorist’s unique style and was meant to be both heart warming and heart wrenching. It was both. But in truth, the story as told to me by my sister and now by her partner to the humorist, needed no embellishments and the simple truth of the facts spoke volumes.
Trula told me the story by way of explaining her absence from our holiday meal. She usually worked the busy holidays and always made time to go to an inner city bar in the heart of her beat to serve meals to the street people and the down and out folks of the neighborhood. She would drop by to share a bite with us but this holiday she had missed.
This Christmas took place years ago and she would have only been on the force a few years. She was riding with an officer that over the long haul became one of her favorite friends in the department. She loved his red hair and bad boy attitude. Like her, he took no guff and nothing over the next years as he moved into the detective bureau would change . That is, nothing except my sister “T” who had seen his other side and knew the secret he carried around for those next twenty years they worked together in the department.
It was Christmas Eve and they’d had an unusually quiet shift and were looking forward to getting off. My sister had five children and Christmas was a hard time for her at best with working and trying to meet family expectations.
A bright spot in their shift had been delivering gifts to kids on the inner city beat. In those days the officers knew who the families were that were likely to have nothing and they would go about collecting gifts and distributing them between calls on Christmas Eve. I have no doubt they had a good story for the children receiving the gifts about Santa needing help and who better to ask than the officers who could run their squad lights to get them delivered fast if need be.
Just before shift change they got a call to an address in a tough neighborhood, for a domestic violence call. Bad enough being that kind of a call, but on Christmas it seemed to trample the character of the holiday. Reluctantly they went on the call.
They arrived to find the wife had been assaulted and was distraught. After investigating, the dad was sent to the station for processing which another squad handled while the mom was interviewed. The children present were crying, confused and when their dad was removed from the house, they began calling for their dad and couldn’t understand why he was leaving.
Trula and Billy were doing their best with the children and in truth my sister was very good with kids. The human interest article mentioned that her partner pointed out how she took the children on her lap to calm them down. He stated that she was “wonderful”.
No one could doubt that if you are witness to your mother being beaten, your dad leaving in a squad car with officers who handcuffed him, you are definitely having a bad Christmas. Never-the-less, the children began to settle in.
It now was near Christmas as it was close to midnight. “T” and Billy tried to help the mom by spending time with the children so she could collect her thoughts and decide what to do and who to call. They had time to really take in the scene and realized at about the same time, there was no Christmas tree. No sign of Christmas could be seen. Too late, her partner had already asked the oldest child, about age six, if “Santa had been good” to him.
The little boy responded to the attention and the question by moving across the room and bringing to the big burly police officer a plastic sandwich bag. It was apparently the only gift the children had received. It was merely a sandwich bag of hard candy. The biggest thing in the bag was a lone purple lollipop and it was the thing the little boy was most proud of.
I am sure both officers thought of the gifts they had been able to give out so liberally earlier in their shift, leaving not even one to be had now. It was too late to go to store and buy something. No Walmarts in those days and even the small convenience stores were closed for Christmas.
The tough and seasoned officer literally thought to himself, “God I wish I had some gifts to give to these kids”. Especially these kids whose Christmas had been so devastated by all that had gone on with their parents.
Suddenly the officer had a thought. He knew of a promotional items businessman that was always good for a donation to fundraisers and police events. As late as it was, he took the chance and called him. He simply stated the facts. There were kids with no gifts, no visit from Santa, and not even a tree. The business man said without hesitation, ‘meet me at my business’.
The officer met the business man, but on the way there, realized that he was between paychecks and wouldn’t be able to buy much or to pay for it right then. The business man told him to ‘forget it’ entirely and loaded the squad car with toys.
Returning to the house Billy and “T”, now off shift, sat on the floor and played with the children and their toys. He relates in the telling of the story that they had been given toys the children had never even seen before. The cache included a train-set he and the six year old boy set up together.
As the officers prepared to leave the house the little boy pressed the purple lollipop into the big hand of the officer and simply said, “Here” and “Thanks”. The officer admittedly wept.
In these twenty years since that night, the officer reported my sister kept after him (and knowing her, harped on him) to share that story. He had been too private to do this, despite the fact that he has carried that purple lollipop in it’s original wrapper inside a plastic sandwich bag in his uniform vest pocket, daily ever since. He only makes an exception when the weather is too warm and might damage it.
So why did it appear in the paper after twenty long years? He decided to tell the story because he said it was to “acknowledge “T” and that night, because she died on December 23, just a couple of days before Christmas the year before. She had begged him to tell the story, but in twenty years he’d never told it to anyone.” Now he did it for her.
Billy said the lollipop is a sign of faith for him when life seems like crap. He pulls it out and looks at it. He has never encountered the family again but he has never forgotten the “night of the purple lollipop“, or the officer and friend who shared it with him.
The renewal of that story and memory of her telling me about it absolutely renewed my enthusiasm for the hope and faith that is Christmas. I remembered it isn’t about me or my dreary attitude, it is about the children. And here I was, blessed to be surrounded by several families, moms and kids in that same situation.
Our Shelter toys went further on Christmas than anyone could have believed and with the over-flow, we even served at risk families outside of shelter that were very much in need. The moms in the shelter received surprise gifts as did each family, for Santa had found his way into each shelter room. I also made sure that staff and families got copies of the news story and a purple lollipop.
I felt a special bond with my sister Trula that Christmas and I treasure the memory. The next Christmas my new boss gave me a purple lollipop at Christmas and once again I was touched by the true meaning of Christmas and the purple lollipop ,my sister, and how the color purple plays into the holiday in sad and in-welcome ways.
When I think of Christmas now, I think of the color purple and the legacy of the little boy’s purple lollipop. I also finally connected the fact that the ribbon which designates hope for domestic violence to end and the victims to heal, is purple.
The last time Trula dropped by on Christmas with all five of the kids with her.
Yes Christmas is still a deeply moving time for me and my heart is always with those I love, but also with the families enduring domestic violence. Please keep in your heart and mind all of these and at each season, make time to make a gift of money or items for those in need. “As ye have given to the least of these, ye have given unto me.” Jesus, and it doesn’t get much better than that. A BLESSED SEASON OF LOVE TO EACH OF YOU.
Believe………..you can ! Author Joyce Godwin Grubbs