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Dillon Carr

The meaning of Christmas differs from person to person, but one word sums the holiday up for many: giving.

The Tribune-Review recently asked readers in the eastern suburbs to submit their stories of memorable ways they experienced an act of kindness from their fellow man during the holidays. Submissions showed the unexpected generosity of others is something most people never forget.

Santa’s helpers

Alan McCormick, 67, of Verona left the area for San Diego, Calif., in 1986 to find opportunity in a growing job market. While he was able to land a new job just three weeks after moving with his two young daughters, “financially we were barely getting by,” he wrote.

“Christmas was approaching, and I had sat my daughters down and told them that I wouldn’t be able to give them much of a Christmas. I had managed to buy a 3-foot Christmas tree and bring it home because I was able to carry it on the bus,” McCormick said.

On the last day before taking some time off for the holiday, McCormick’s new co-workers gave him a surprise he’d never forget.

“I was called up to the front desk to help carry some stuff. When I got up to the front desk, there were a few people up there and they showed me six wrapped presents, three each for my two daughters,” he said.

Each present was marked “From: Santa,” and they also gave McCormick some money in an envelope.

“I was very emotional and thankful. They then told me to go home early and enjoy Christmas,” he said.

On Christmas morning, he told his daughters who the presents really were from because “I wanted (them) to know that Dad had found a wonderful place to work.”

He said the family kept that 3-foot tree for years to come as a reminder of the special Christmas they had their first year in San Diego. McCormick moved back to Verona in 2013 after working with the company for 25 years.

A tradition of kindness

Michelle Dilella, 61, of Plum lived in a small bungalow with her family through the 1960s. Her mother and father became good friends with a young couple who changed the family’s outlook on Christmas.

“My father was a car salesman, and we lived paycheck to paycheck,” Dilella wrote. “I was about 3 one Christmastime, and my parents had no money to buy gifts. They were frantic worrying about their three kids waking up Christmas morning with no gifts under the tree.”

That Christmas Eve, the couple — Bobby and Jeannie — knocked on the Dilellas’ door.

“When my parents opened the door, there stood Bobby and Jeannie, their arms filled with bags of toys,” Dilella said. “They stayed into the wee hours of the morning playing pinochle with my parents. My brothers and I woke up that Christmas morning to a lot of toys under the tree.”

The couple eventually married and the families became lifelong friends who carried the tradition of Christmas Eve pinochle and generous giving. Dilella said organizations such as Toys for Tots remind her “every Christmas Eve to remember Bobby’s and Jeannie’s gift of giving.”

Making magic

Catherine Meara, 51, of Penn Hills remembers the holiday as being magical. The mystery behind Santa Claus’ exceptional ability to deliver presents to all children around the world in one evening enchanted her growing up.

One night, a week before Christmas, a 7-year-old Meara saw the Yuletide character in real life, parking a car in her parents’ driveway.

“I raced into the kitchen, so he wouldn’t see me, and peeked around the corner to see this magic mom spoke of. I held my breath, sure that I was one of the few kids in the world that witnessed this magic,” she wrote.

“He knocked on the door. He sat down with me and explained the North Pole, the list he makes (he wouldn’t let me see it), and the sleigh that turned into a car. I also asked exactly how many Santa suits he had. ‘One,’ he said with puzzlement. After he gave me presents, he ‘ho, ho, ho-ed’ his way out the door. I felt much wiser in the days to come,” Meara said.

Meara had a few similar encounters growing up. Her mother, she said, hired a local Santa to sit and talk with her. She realized the truth when she was about 9, but that didn’t change her perspective about the holiday.

“My mother is an amazing woman,” Meara said.

The experience imprinted her heart with the magic of Christmas, which she said she carries on today by volunteering at Veterans Place of Washington Boulevard. Meara, along with her mother, prepares the stuffing for a holiday meal served annually at the facility that provides housing to homeless veterans.

“After that first year, I understood that Christmas is handing it to others who have lost hope, have no home and few possessions,” she said. “I’ve found that helping others helps me help myself. Magic. It’s magic.”

Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, dcarr@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dillonswriting.

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