A Christmas story: Need is a thing that hits someone else — until it’s you

Times Colonist Christmas Fund logoJim Taylor wrote for the Daily Colonist in the 1950s, when our Christmas Fund was launched as the 500 Fund. He later became a sports columnist in Vancouver, and is a member of the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame. He has retired to Vancouver Island. This column first appeared in the sports pages of the Vancouver Province on Dec. 11, 1981. During his career, Taylor wrote 7,500 columns, and describes this one as the hardest of them all.

This is a Christmas column, sort of. I play the Grinch.

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No doubt you’ve noticed that this newspaper has a Christmas Fund drive. Most newspapers have, and a lot of radio stations. Maybe that’s part of the problem: Because there are so many there’s a tendency to glance at the picture, skim the story, cluck the tongue — and turn the page.

Oh, you’d give at the office or send a cheque, but most times it never really got to you. Sometimes you didn’t read it at all. Because there were so many.

When I started out in this business I drew the assignment of writing those stories. It did not make me happy. Heart stories, we called them. Sob stuff.

They were approached with a certain cynicism. We’d sit around, some of us, and sneer at the commercialism. “You’re ever gonna lose your wallet, lose it at Christmas,” we’d say. “With donations, you’ll get back double.” I was 20 years old, and knew everything.

That particular fund was to raise money for the 500 most needy families in Victoria. When it closed, the total raised would be divided by 500 and distributed. I got the assignment because I was new. “Fresh approach,” they told me, which meant low man on the totem pole.

So I wrote stories. Every day, another story about someone in trouble or a family that couldn’t afford presents for the kids. Day after day.

They got to me, but not the way they were supposed to. Oh, they were sad cases, all right, and it was too bad, and hopefully there’d be enough money so the kids could have presents. And sure, somebody had to write it. But why me?

After two weeks, I tried to beg off.

No way.

So I decided to bring it to a head. I’d show them how cynical I was. They’d have to take me off. I wrote a fake story and turned it in as I’d turned in all the others. It started out like this:

“Your name is Mary, and the only thing coming down your chimney this Christmas is soot.”

It didn’t work. The city editor scrunched it up and told me to quit fooling around. But we all had a good laugh. I remember that.

I especially remember it each Christmas, when I look at my daughter in a wheelchair.

She was 14 when the skiing accident occurred. There have been five Christmases since. She cannot walk. She has some use of her arms. Her mind is locked away, hopefully in a better world than we can give her. It opens your eyes.

You see, Christmas funds are not just desirable or marginally necessary; they are vital. Whether they help provide care or treatment or presents or food or that tiny extra that can give a family without one a touch of Christmas and a tinge of hope, they must be filled. To say no is to turn your back on kids who but, for a turn of the wheel, might have been yours.

They lend themselves to cynicism. It is easy to say, and there is some truth in it, that they shouldn’t be necessary, that people have problems 12 months of the year, not just in December, and where are all the charitable people in the other 11? The problem in totally accepting them is that you have to be there.

When you’re lucky, accidents and need are things that hit someone else. Other people’s kids suffer, never yours. All the newspaper stories, all the TV and radio pleas, are about other people in another world.

Then one day something happens, and it’s not their world, it’s yours. Until you’ve been there, you can’t possibly know.

This is not a sports page column. It doesn’t belong here, really. Maybe it’s just a try at erasing the other story about the girl, the chimney and the soot. Oh, it never got published — but I wrote it.

The lesson, I suppose, is that happiness is fragile, and it’s not always the other guy’s that breaks. Hug your kids and fill their stockings. But remember the ones that are empty.

Taylor’s daughter Teresa is now 56, and lives in a group home in Vancouver.

Times Colonist Christmas Fund

People throughout Greater Victoria are once again able to help those in need, thanks to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund.

Since 1956, this newspaper has collected money to benefit the less fortunate. Last year we raised and distributed almost $294,000, and we hope to beat that total this year.

We work with the Salvation Army and the Mustard Seed, which handle the distribution of hampers and gift certificates to those in need, and also provide financial help to Our Place.

How to donate

To donate, go to timescolonist.com/donate. The site is open 24 hours a day and provides an immediate tax receipt.

Or mail a cheque, payable to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund Society, to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund, 2621 Douglas St., Victoria, V8T 4M2.

You can use your credit card by phoning 250-995-4438 between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., Monday through Friday. Outside those hours, messages will be accepted.

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