Grand Uncle Jim
First things first: This is a story about an Irish family. While my name is Jim, and I’m an uncle, I also have an Uncle Jim of my own. There is an Uncle Jim mentioned in this story, but he’s not that Uncle Jim, although that Uncle Jim is the one who told me this tale of the other Uncle Jim. Actually, he’s Uncle Jim’s Uncle Jim, making him my Grand Uncle Jim (and some folks prefer the title 'great uncle', but let’s not open that can of worms.) It’s very confusing to the uninitiated, I suppose, so if it will keep you from getting a headache, feel free to think of him as Uncle Aloysius.
Anyway, when my father was very young – five or six - his Uncle Jim taught him a very valuable lesson.
My father had hung his stocking on Christmas Eve, as did all of the family. This included the older relatives, and that group included his Uncle Jim. Come Christmas morning, everybody took down their stockings and looked inside to see what Santa Claus had brought them.
The usual things were found inside the stockings - little toys, tasty candies, and other such trifles. Nice, of course, but nothing unusual. That is, until Uncle Jim inspected the contents of his stocking. He turned it upside down, and out rolled a lump of coal and an onion.
While good little boys and girls receive toys and candies, a lump of coal and an onion are, by tradition, what bad boys and girls receive. Seeing those things come from Uncle Jim’s stocking, my father laughed and laughed. Uncle Jim was a bad boy! He got a lump of coal and an onion!
While my father was laughing, Uncle Jim said, "Oh! This is wonderful! A lump of coal and an onion? These are just what I needed!"
My father thought his Uncle Jim had gone round the bend. How could someone be happy to have received a lump of coal and an onion in his Christmas stocking?
Uncle Jim picked up the lump of coal, then took my father’s hand and led him to the basement. They stopped at the furnace. Uncle Jim said, "It’s so cold today, this lump of coal is the perfect gift. I can put it in the furnace and we’ll be nice and warm all day!"
Uncle Jim then led my amazed father back upstairs. They returned to the family parlor, where Uncle Jim now picked up his Christmas onion. He led my father into the kitchen. While my father sat and watched, Uncle Jim chopped up the onion, and then mixed it with celery, bread, and spices. During all of this, he went on rapturously about how his stuffing for the turkey would have been no good whatsoever without an onion.
Later on, as my father sat in a warm house eating delicious stuffing with his Christmas dinner, the lesson was permanently burned into his memory: It doesn’t matter what you’re given. It’s what you do with it that matters.
(I’d appreciate it if you’d keep that in mind when you see more re-runs from me in the coming days.)
Soon, with more better stuff.
(Some of the more perspicacious among you no doubt realized that this entry, itself, is a re-run. I appreciate your loyalty and persistence in having reached this final parenthetical without bailing. May you find superb uses for all of the coal and onions life gives you.)