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Christmas Cookies

12/24/01 12:00AM

The snow began around noon that day in the city. It soon settled down in earnest on cars and streets and pedestrians on their last minute Christmas errands.

Andy Perine lived in the suburbs, about a 20 minute bus ride from his downtown office. Looking out the window, he decided to leave for home early. ¿That¿s it,¿ he said, ¿everybody go home.¿

As they parted company, his secretary gave him a large paper bag. ¿Thought you and Edna¿s like a few cookies,¿ she said.

The bus was already crowded when he entered. Traffic was snarled and they moved ahead only a few yards at a time. It took them twenty minutes to go a single city block.

A few of the passengers had brought newspapers to read. A young woman helped a small boy connect the dots with a pencil in his activity book. Mostly, however, the riders sat there in silence, just looking out the window or straight ahead.

They had gone scarcely a mile an hour later. It was getting dark now. The little boy had finished his activity book and lucky for everybody had fallen asleep. Andy, standing in the aisle, had carefully balanced the paper bag on the upright briefcase between his feet. Now he shifted the bag. ¿Here,¿ said a man in the seat beside him, ¿I¿m tired of sitting.¿ He stood up. ¿You sit a while.¿

Andy gratefully lowered himself into the seat. Then he opened the bag. ¿Have a cookie,¿ he said. The man smiled, took a cookie, then raised it in a toast like a glass of wine. ¿To your health,¿ he said.

Andy offered the bag to the lady in the seat beside him. ¿Go ahead,¿ he said. Then, as an afterthought: ¿Pass it on.¿

She did just that, lowering it down into the lap of the startled man in front of her. The bag began its rounds through the bus. A boy took two, handing one to the driver. ¿Thanks, somebody,¿ the driver said, looking up into his mirror.

Where there had been silence was now the murmur of conversation. People turned and spoke to each other conversing with total strangers. A man stood up, waving a newspaper. ¿Anybody want the paper?¿ he asked. ¿Hey, sure,¿ someone else called and soon the paper had a new reader.

A big chocolate bar came along. Andy broke off a piece; then took a bit of Christmas candy coming from the other direction. ¿Take some for the kid,¿ a man said as he passed it to the mother with her sleeping son.

The bus struggled on through the night. The people who got off stepped into the snow, still talking to those who got off with them. Andy¿s stop was near the end of the line. Getting up to leave, he saw the empty brown bag on a seat near him. Jamming it into his pocket, he smiled and said goodbye to the driver the first time they had ever spoken to each other.

He hunched his shoulders against the driving snow on the way to his apartment. ¿Here, Edna,¿ he said at last, holding out the crumpled bag. ¿From the gang at the office and all the people on the bus.¿

This is Ron Rood. Merry Christmas everybody.

--Author and naturalist Ron Rood passed away in July 2001, but will be remembered for his many VPR commentaries "with the human touch".
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