“Walt, this is Herman. Sorry to call so early. Got a minute?”

“Only a minute, Herman. I’m just about to leave for the Men’s Fellowship.”

“Ok, I’ll make it quick. I just wanted to know if you are coming up for Christmas. Sue wants to make plans for the dinner and exchanging presents and all of that.”

“I think I’m coming, Herman. I’ll check my calendar when I get to the office and let you know tonight.”

“Great, Walt. It will be nice to be together. Talk to you tonight.”

Pastor Walter Mitty had five minutes to get to the Main Street Cafe, but he decided to brave the cold and walk. When he got to the bottom of his front steps, the wind nearly knocked him over. Two blocks from the house, Mitty questioned the wisdom of walking. The wind chill was near zero.

Mitty took off his Green Bay Packer stocking cap as he walked through the restaurant’s door, and shivered as he hung up his coat on the hook beside the booth.

“I saw that,” laughed Ash, pointing to the green and gold sticking out of the coat pocket.

“The Pack is gonna get their behind whupped on Sunday,” teased Donimique.

“I know, I know,” Mitty replied. “I’m a Cubs fan and a Packer fan and my mental health has been in the toilet since May.”

“I’m glad you’re here.” Eric changed the subject. “We’ve been having a debate.”

“Eric’s been going off on this advertising section in the paper,” Dominique explained. “He’s all upset again about how our free market economy has turned Christmas into an orgy of consumerism.”

“Well, look at the title,” Eric shot back. “It says ‘Gift Ideas for the Holidays.’ If that isn’t materialist consumerism I don’t know what is.”

Ash joined the debate. “I know what you mean, Eric, but don’t you think you’re blowing this out of proportion? I mean, it gives me a lot of pleasure to buy things for my grandchildren.”

Ash’s even tone had a calming effect on Eric. “Well, maybe a little, Ash, and I don’t blame you for wanting make your grand kids happy. But what I’m saying is that that whole gift giving thing has gotten way out of proportion. I mean when people need gift ideas, to me that says they are looking for something that the other person doesn’t really need and most likely doesn’t even want. But we’re stuck in this need to shower people with lots of stuff.”

Dominique looked at his friend across the table and took a deep breath. “I didn’t realize how serious you were about this, Eric. I just think Santa and Jesus can get along with each other without having a fight.”

“I … I didn’t mean to raise my voice, guys.” Eric knew Dominique was not the enemy. “It’s just that I worry about what my kids are learning from all of this. You know how you ask kids about the meaning of Christmas? Well, when my daughter was three, I asked her why we celebrate Christmas, and she answered, ‘Because that’s when Santa was born.'”

“There you guys go again.”

“What?” said Eric. “Oh, hi Alice. You hear what we … I mean I was saying?”

“Sure.” She looked at her watch in mock amazement. “For the last twenty minutes.”

In spite of himself, Eric blushed. Alice continued, “See, you guys can pontificate about making choices. Me, I don’t have choices. I have to work both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. And with the tips you give me I couldn’t afford to shower my grandchildren. … not that I have any. … with presents if I wanted to.”

Mitty thought mainly about what Eric had said as he went back into the cold. The American flag on the bank was sticking out straight as a starched sheet. “Alice is just an old windbag,” he said to himself. “Her bark was worse than her bite.” Head down and leaning into the wind, he almost ran over Father Bob Sullivan.

“Top of the morning, Walt.” They ducked into the doorway of the Milk Can Antique Shop. “I’m glad I bumped into you. I’ve been meaning to ask you if you want to help me serve a Christmas dinner to the homeless over at St. Mary’s social hall.”

“Well, uh,” Mitty stammered. “But, aren’t you going to be with your family for Christmas?”

“Of course. We’re going to midnight Mass together”all twenty-two of us. And then the whole bunch of us is going to cook and serve the meal the next day. We’re really looking forward to it. The true meaning of Christmas and all of that. You want to help?”

“Um, well … I … I have to check my calendar, Bob. I’ll call you and let you know tonight. OK?”

As Pastor Walt went back to battling the wind as he made his way to the Retro, he felt a tug of war going on his stomach. Dominique, Ash and Herman were pulling one way, Eric and Father Sullivan tugging the other way and Alice standing on the sidelines yelling at both sides: “You guys still don’t get it.”

As he entered the Retro, Pastor Walt didn’t take his cap off quick enough.

Zaphne laughed. “I have some bad news and some good news for you. The bad news is that the Packers are going to get killed on Sunday …”

“And the good news?”

“The good news is that your Nellie Fox baseball card came in.”

“Great! Oh, by the way, how’s business?”

“Good … no great. Thanks for asking. You know, I was worried that I wasn’t going to make it with a store like this, but with sales picking up after Thanksgiving, I might just make it through my first year and a half.”

When Mitty got home that evening, he took longer than usual eating dinner. Then he watched two travel shows on Channel Twenty. He was stalling, and he knew it. “OK,” he said to himself, got up and dialed his brother’s number. “Hi Herman. It’s Walt. I’ve decided that I’m going to …”