A Gift to Remember

Dec 20, 2021 | by Doug Donahoo

In the story of The Polar Express each passing year pulls adults a little further away from the magic of Christmas. One by one, the bell falls silent, and Christmas becomes a little less special when it does. For some adults, like the young narrator, the sound of Christmas never goes quiet because the lasting memory is so strong.

Patricia McMahan knows the feeling of a magical Christmas memory. As a young girl, she, her three sisters, and their mother found themselves in Noel, Mo. living in government-provided housing.

“It was a trailer park,” she said, looking back across the decades. “We were surrounded by people of the same circumstances, so that’s why we didn’t know we were poor, because everyone else was too.”

Despite the financial challenges her mother faced, Patricia still found Christmas a focal point of the calendar. “We had this tradition on Christmas Eve where everyone would be in rollers. Because we’re going to church on Christmas Day. We were all in rollers and our night gowns, we were all excited because it was Christmas Eve.”

Before the excitement could get out of control, Patricia’s mother delivered an ultimatum. “Mom kept telling us to calm down or she was going to lock the screen door so Santa couldn’t get in because we didn’t have a chimney.”

No more than a few minutes later, a knock at the door revealed Santa and two elves. Carrying gifts for all four girls, including a doll for Patricia. Who, admittedly, wasn’t much a “doll girl,” but when a gift is hand-delivered by Santa, it makes an impression.

“I was kind of a tomboy. I got a doll that year and I loved it, I thought it was amazing. I was absolutely astounded that they visited our house,” she said with a smile.

It wasn’t until years later the true magic of that visit was revealed by Patricia’s mother.

“I was talking to my mom and I said, ‘What was that all about, who was that?’ She said, ‘That was The Salvation Army.’ I was speechless.”

It was in that moment, long after that Christmas Eve visit, Patricia understood the true power of The Salvation Army and the people who support its mission.

“I was mostly amazed and humbled by the giving of strangers to me and my family without judgement of our circumstances and just for the pure gift of providing so much happiness for me and my sisters.”

Today, Patricia is Vice President and Trust Officer with Midwest Trust, and she often discusses with clients the impact they wish to leave as their legacy. When the conversation comes up, she shares an important story. Her own.

“I share myself, I’m single, no children, so my legacy is what I leave in my trust document and that’s why I’ve named The Salvation Army to be one of the recipients of my hard work.”

To Patricia, it’s a story worth telling anyone who will listen.

“I tell them why I love The Salvation Army. I’m humbled by the services that me and my family have received from the organization.”

Love is what powers the magic of the season. What makes the bells ring. What makes Santa visit a trailer home in Noel, Mo. and give a gift that echoes across the decades.

The sound of Christmas never has to go quiet. With the help of donors like you it can ring forever for all the true believers by clicking here.


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