Posted by: Peadar Ban | December 26, 2008

Christmas Cooping

Back in New York City where I grew up, the cops call it “cooping”.  That’s when they go to a quiet place, park the car and pass the time talking about everything and nothing, while they wait for the next emergency.  Now, it isn’t cooping, exactly, when Doug the Mailman spends his lunch time in the Rectory kitchen.  I mean, how many mail emergencies can there be for a guy to handle in any given day?

He was there when I walked through the door the other day.  I kidded him about wearing his hat inside the house.  “Why not,” he said.  “Women wear hats inside.  I’m just getting in touch with my femininity.”  This from a guy with a two weeks supply of whiskers sprouting all over his face.  I told him I hoped it stopped short of him giving me a hug.  He promised that it would.

Obligatory male silliness aside, I asked him how business was for him this time of year.  “Not as busy as last year,” he answered.  “There are a lot less cards going out, a lot less catalogs and boxes coming in.”  Then he spoke about one of the women who lives on his route.  He said that she was doing some volunteer work at the big mall down near the south end of town wrapping gifts to raise funds for charity.  “On Friday night,” he said, “she told me that she was there for four hours and only about ten or fifteen people stopped by to have their packages wrapped.”

My wife and I were at the mall on Saturday evening for a few hours (working at another of my very impressive post-retirement jobs.)  I noticed that the crowds were thinner and the loads and bundles seemed smaller.

Doug and I sat quietly for a while.  Then he said.  “Maybe this is all a good thing in some way.”  “What?” I asked.  “Maybe the fact that people are pulling back on all of the material stuff will help them to focus on what really matters, the spiritual stuff.”

Who’d a thunk it?  Two guys having a conversation like that in a rectory; and one of them a mailman.

Yesterday was Christmas.  There were 124 people at the eight o’clock morning Mass at St. John’s where Mariellen plays the organ and I stand around  pretending.  Dominic came over (with his whole family) to play a prelude for us; an arrangement of the French carol, “Il Est Ne”.  It is one of my personal favorites.  Mariellen talked him into playing for a postlude another piece he’s been practicing.  He was more than happy to play the Toccata and Fugue in E minor by Bach, and the old organ seemed happy itself.  It sure sounded that way!  Dominic, by the way, is sixteen.

When Mass ended we went home to wrap a few presents and prepare our contribution for the dinner our daughter, Jeanne, was getting ready.  Since the beginning of Advent, Mariellen has been making starter for and baking little loaves of Amish Friendship Bread.  They were our main gifts to all of our friends and co-workers, these little hand made goodies.  At the same time I have been wandering through the house harvesting little things from here and there to give to Jeanne and the grandchildren.  I have named them “legacy gifts”; things like books and bits of stuff from our life as a family.  They all have stories to tell, and come with memories attached.

The rest of the day we spent with our daughter and son-in-law, the four grandchildren and one priest, the one who officiated at their marriage, and in whose rectory I cook.  I worried, briefly, that I might lose my job.  But, Jeanne is a busy woman, busy with family and nursing school.  I guess I am safe.

It was one of the most peaceful days I can remember.  After the meal we sat around the table chatting, telling stories, laughing and being serious in turn.  I wondered from time to time if Father’s cell phone would ring and he would be called off, somewhere on some emergency or other.

Going through my head, constantly, was the refrain from Dominic’s prelude, “Il est ne, le divin enfant.” Yes, I remember thinking, born and born, and born again.

Well, things ended, as they do here, and we “resumed patrol” as the cops might say.  We drove the short distance home quietly.  The song in my head had changed to Silent Night, in keeping with the general atmosphere of my surroundings.  We spoke quietly of the beauty of the day, and of the happiness and peace that had permeated it.  It seemed to me to be something God wanted us to have; His simple gift.

Wandering off to sleep later on I remembered this thing I wrote a couple of years ago which I shall share with you now as my very simple gift:


After the Birth of the Little Child
Came shepherds from the hills
Down from stormy heights and wild
Through Alpine meadows, frigid rills
Of living water more than ever
On the Infant’s blessed night,
Witnessing in awe and wonder,
Incomprehensibly, the sight,
Of God made Man in Manger Bed
Sleeping innocent and aware
With rugged beasts at feet and head
Dumbly playing courtiers.

Shepherds left their herds and ran
To see this marvel Angels sang.
Nor wolf, nor lion worried them
While carillons in heaven rang.
And speeding down the mountain’s sides
Beheld in Holy Mother’s arms
The resting babe, the Father’s pride
Come to save from Satan’s harm.

What went through the minds of men
Who only hours since had slept
In rugged copse and sheltered glen
Now saw their God and seeing wept?
Do we wonder how they spent the night
Among their flocks back in the hills
Until by dawn’s new paler light
They led them to the dancing rills

In silence pointing to the place
Where they had seen God face to face?

December 6, 2006

I should dedicate it to Doug.  What a grace…


  1. I don’t know which I like best, the story or the poem.

    I like your term “legacy gifts.” Much of my own giving this year has been similar. Things to give now instead of after I’ve gone. Things stuffed in my closet, to preserve what they meant to me; memories. Give them now, I thought, while they may yet give joy and not yet remind of sorrow.

    The poem is “simply” beautiful.

  2. Thank you, Kathy.

    I haven’t yet worked up the nerve to go into closets, though I am wearing a “Rooster” tie more than thirty years old. It is a “legacy” gift, perhaps. That is, if anyone still wears ties when i finally get around to giving it away.


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