Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Boxing day... the day after.

I have had my breakfast and I am back in bed.  For a number of reasons I am a bit sore. I think struggling with a heavy fallen over Christmas tree on Christmas eve by myself with my condition was not a good idea.  Fronting yesterday's Community Christmas Dinner was made tougher with extra spasms and pains going on.  We live and learn.
I read the paper this morning and there was a photo and article. It is an interesting time and I cannot hope to communicate the various "feels" you get while being a part of it. 
The day always starts with me erecting a carport/tent in the car park of the Church before 8 a.m. It is used as an area to rinse the dishes before they go to the dishwasher. Before Christmas I had an email correspondence with a an unknown woman in Sydney who had searched us out. She was passing through Dunedin on Christmas day and offered to help. Just as I was beginning to build the carport she pulled up, the first of our volunteers. We worked together erecting this tent as if we had known each other for a long time. During the dinner I saw her looking after our Rett Syndrome foster daughter. After the dinner she was back out packing up the dishwashing gear in our tent. "I'm back where I started!" she yelled as I passed by.  When she left she promised to email me next Christmas with a reminder about some ideas we had to make the carport job easier. She had been there more than six hours.
As we were packing up a retired firefighter came up to me. He had been rinsing dishes though I did not know he was there. He was an officer when I first started as chaplain. His rank was disestablished and he eventually took retirement. They later put him on the National Fire-Commission, the body that is the ultimate authority in the NZ Fire Service. He had volunteered at our dinner a couple of times when he was in Dunedin. He now lives else where, but whenever he visits his daughter on Christmas day, he'll take leave of family duties and sneak along to the dinner to do dishes and catch up. It was so warm to connect with him.
We had a great bunch of volunteers from the community. A farmer and his wife came some distance. He was a big broad shouldered man with a cheeky smile and a lot of fun. A young guy just turns up every year.  "Gidday Dave" he says as he enters the church. He knows the ropes and just fits in doing things and seeing gaps to fill. He has done this for the last 16 dinners! No fuss, just comes, works and goes. A Habitat for Humanity friend and her husband come. They have done a few with us and are just so valuable, again getting into the spirit of the event and knowing what needs done.  The firefighters we had this year did their job conscientiously, really in tune with us, bringing a lot of laughter.  They were well organised, used to working as a team and work well with others. A woman came hesitantly, offering her services with her teenage son and daughter. I had arranged for her to pick up three people, but it turned out she drove a little mini and these three were bigger folks! We swapped her for another group. She worked so hard, but when she left she appeared at my shoulder saying "Good bye" and "Thanks for a great day, I'll be back next year!" "Is that a promise?" I said. "Too right!" came her reply. Another volunteer, an American academic working at our local University, had interesting adventures. He had two women at his table who tended to argue, so he had to pacify them. He was astounded at the greediness of one of them. He had another man who wanted to sing an item. He was sure it should not happen, but he told the guy he would ask me.  He said to me, "Just nod as if you are saying 'no' and I'll pass it on." When he left I thanked him for his work. He said, "No.... thank you, doubly so. It has been a great experience." 
This year I made a point of going around giving out the gifts to each person. This meant I got to meet each one. I was surprised because I knew most of their names. As I gave the gift I said "Merry Christmas ... (Mary or Bob or whoever)" mentioning them by name. (They did have name tags) As I gave a gift to one lady I was distracted by a question from another person, and I didn't say "The words!" "I didn't get a Merry Christmas!" she complained. I wrapped my arm around her shoulder and said, "Merry Christmas ....." It is funny how valued this little personal gesture is. I was so pleased because so many of them responded with gratitude, warmth and friendship. There are the greedy ones who take it for granted, but over all, you feel you have made Christmas better for a lot of people, even for them.
My wife, daughter and son-in-law do much of the organising. I get the appreciation, but as a foursome we direct the energy, love and warmth of a great bunch of volunteers. I tell volunteers that overall in charge is "God. But second in charge is Angela (my daughter) and sometimes she tells God what to do."  She is well organised and keeps things running smoothly.
I learned that one of the guys on our Night Shelter Trust was going to spend Christmas alone. I told him to come. He helped set up and assisted with transporting people. When he got home he sent me this email; Hello Dave,
Thank you and Jean and all your cheerful helpers very much
for a wonderful Christmas dinner and celebration.  I got all
my charges home safely and they were full of praise and
gratitude for the dinner and trimmings as well.
Best wishes for a peaceful, prosperous and healthful New

After the event I visited my 97 year old man in hospital taking him some goodies from the dinner. My wife took some food to another drop-in centre man who was looking after his aged and infirm father. I came home and collapsed on my bed for sometime to recuperate. It has been a busy few days. We had a light dinner with my daughter and son-in-law, made some contact via phone or skype with our other kids and opened presents.
Today it is back to earth. I have to call at a fire station, look into Church service preparations for Sunday and make a visit. My wife spends the afternoon at the Emergency Department as a St John Friend of the Emergency Department volunteer. Life goes on.
A whole lot of volunteers arrived at the dinner earlier than the time we suggested. We were not ready for them and they were standing around wanting jobs looking at us expectantly. I looked at my son-in-law and said out loud, "What do we want to do?"  "I want to go home!" he said in exasperation with a grin. (I'm not sure what the volunteers thought) .. but then we settled down to direct people to their jobs. I'm glad we didn't go home. It was a Christmas day well spent.

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