Bruce Cooper of Los Angeles, 58, recalled: “My baby brother Charles was the first in my family to attend college, which he did on a football scholarship. One year he decided that he wasn’t coming home for Christmas. Instead, he was going to spend it with his very first girlfriend. This surprised and disappointed us. We were missing him at our Christmas dinner, but just as we were about to make a toast, the front door flung open, and Charles came in from the cold. He smiled and opened his arms for everyone. Charles was home for Christmas. His first love was a good woman who had urged him not to miss the holiday with his loved ones.”
Kenneth Donnely of West Oakland, 55, had one of the most unique choices for favorite holiday. He always looked forward to the day after Christmas. His reason was simple: he could shop for reduced prices at most outlets. While most people suffered from spending fatigue, Kenneth took advantage of a calculated period that offered huge savings on desired products. He mentioned that he looks forward to resuming the practice upon release.
“Rain is a homeless person’s worst enemy,” says a staff member at San Quentin State Prison who wishes to remain anonymous. For four years, this San Quentin staffer was homeless in San Francisco, in part from circumstances, in part by choice. On Christmas Eve in the late 1990s, when the weather forecast predicted rain for the week, he decided to hitchhike to Los Angeles, panhandling a few dollars for a BART train that would take him to a station close to the highway, where he caught a ride to Coalinga, halfway to Los Angeles. He waited there for hours, until a guy driving all the way to LA stopped to pick him up. “Hitchhikers always swap stories,” he explained, “this guy told me about his divorce, and I told him about homelessness in San Francisco.” When they finally arrived, the man offered his couch for him to sleep on for the night. He remembered the house as a middle-class home on a quiet street, the living room filled with a Christmas tree and presents. When a little girl woke him up early in the morning to ask who he was, he told her he was Santa’s helper, and she left him alone. Not wanting to intrude any further, he found a piece of paper and wrote “Thank you for all your help,” before closing the door on his way out. Even now, he reflects on this stranger’s hospitality, the spirit of Christmas and being given the ultimate gift of trust.
“My favorite holiday memory would be Halloween,” says Paul from San Jose. “Oct. 31, 2010, is when my mom, after a long battle, won custody of my younger brother. It was our ‘got ya day,’ but it’s also a sad time – my mom passed away in October of 2013. October 31st takes me back.”
Billy Ray Woodard, 65, grew up in Lawton, Oklahoma. On Dec. 14, 1975, Lawton was covered in a layer of fresh powdered snow. The sun was sinking below the horizon, and the scent of burning wood filled the air. A piercing scream shattered the stillness of the Woodard home – Ollie Mae Woodard joined the Woodard clan at 6 pounds, 8 ounces. “The birth of my first baby girl is my memorable holiday moment,” said Billy Ray. “Each day she brings me joy and happiness with the sound of her angelic voice on the phone.”