"The Christmas List"
Jon and Ponch stood outside the large Victorian style home, thinking of all the work that needed to be done on the old building. As he walked around to the back, Ponch sadly shook his head. "There should be things for the kids to play with instead of just an empty back yard."
"Yeah, Ponch, I agree, and I was thinking of it last night," Jon started towards the front door where he knew Melissa and Sue would be waiting. "I have an idea, but first I have to ask the girls about it."
Ponch continued to walk around the yard, thinking of where one could put a swing, a slide, a sandbox, and maybe a basketball hoop or a volleyball net.
He thought to himself, "The older kids could play basketball, volleyball, or badminton. And the younger ones would enjoy the swings, the sandbox, a slide, or maybe a jungle gym."
Ponch went around to the front of the building and walked inside. There, Melissa met him.
"Hi, love," she laughed as she put her arms around him. "Oh, don't tell me you forgot to get me some lunch".
"No, I didn't forget. Jon and I ate at Taco Bell, so I picked up some tacos for you."
A small child came running up with arms wide open, wanting to be picked up. Ponch held little two-year-old Jennifer. "Hi, honey! Have you been a good girl?"
She shook her head yes, and smiled.
"I'm a good girl -- got candy?" She put her hand in Ponch's pocket, searching for the sweet treat she know would be there.
Ponch laughed, "Yes, but only one piece. We don't want to ruin your lunch."
"You and your partner are spoiling her," Melissa said as she watched Jennifer run off into another room.
"Hey, I know what it feels like to grow up poor," Ponch said. "We lived in a bad neighborhood, but we always had lots of love from our parents. These kids here only have the love that the workers give. Somehow, it's not the same."
Ponch walked over to the window and looked outside, thinking of how it could look with a few improvements. Melissa stood beside Ponch and put her hand on his arm.
"Ponch, the kids are loved very much here. They're happy and well taken care of," she said.
"I know, Hon, but there's so much more that they should have."
Ponch walked around the room again, noticing what needed to be done on the inside of the building. Melissa watched as Ponch inspected the walls -- walls that were in need of painting.
"Ponch, Jon and Sue are in the kitchen. Let's go join them."
Inside the kitchen, Jon sat talking to Sue. She smiled as she looked lovingly in the blue eyes of the man sitting beside her.
"I think it's a great idea, Jon," she said.
'So what's this great idea, Jon?" Ponch and Melissa walked over to Jon and Sue, then sat down. Jon began to tell them his idea.
"Look, it's already the tenth of August," he said. "We could get this place looking nice by December and give the kids here a special Christmas day. We could paint the rooms and fix up a lot of things, so the owner of this home won't have to spend any money. If Ponch and I worked overtime to pick up a little extra cash and came out here on our days off, we could do a lot."
"Yeah, and maybe we could get some things for the kids to play with outside," Ponch said with a smile across his face.
Melissa looked over at Sue. "I guess we could talk Mary Beth into it."
Before he walked out, Ponch took Melissa in his arms. "I'm going to ask Joe for some overtime. I want to get some things for the kids. I'll see you tonight for dinner, OK?"
"Sure, Ponch, I'll be there."
Melissa and Sue watched as Ponch and Jon left. They walked back inside, and Sue shook her head with a worried frown.
"I hope they don't overdo it," she said. "Those two would never tell any one if they were drop-dead tired."
Ponch sat in his apartment that afternoon on the phone with Jon. Together, they made out a Christmas list:
Paint and carpet the rooms
Toy and outfits for each child
Swing, slide, sand box
Basketball and hoop
Volleyball and net
Ponch put the list down on the coffee table, then started to fix the steak dinner that he had planned for Melissa. Melissa arrived at seven o'clock, just as the steaks were almost done.
"Hi, love, come on in!" Ponch called from the kitchen. "Dinner's ready. We've got steaks, baked potatoes, salad, and some wine."
Soft music came from the stereo speakers, and Melissa smiled when she saw the lit candles. "Oh, Ponch, you made every thing so nice."
Melissa sat down on the couch and started to read the Christmas list that Ponch had made. "Ponch, do you know how much money you're talking about here? You couldn't work that much overtime."
"Sure, I can, love. I'm young, strong, and able," Ponch said with a smile that could light up all of L.A.
The next morning, Jon and Ponch walked into Sergeant Getraer's office. Jon stood in front of Joe's desk and waited until the sergeant nodded for him to go ahead.
"Sarge, both of us need some over time both of us," Jon said. "We'll work all the over time you can give us."
Getraer put down the paper that he had been reading, then looked up at Jon and Ponch and cleared his throat. "You two want to tell me what this is all about?"
As Ponch stood in front of Joe, he felt a little unsure of himself. "Sarge, it's for some kids that really need a nice Christmas. We just want to help them have it."
"Well, as it just so happens, I do have some overtime that you two could put in. But if I think that you're working too much and can't handle it, I'll put a stop to the extra hours," Joe knew the two officers would never admit that they were too tired to keep going. "Do I make myself clear on that?"
After that day, Jon and Ponch work many extra hours and always went to the Children's Home after work. Jon walked into the back of the building where a few small classrooms had been added on.
As he looked around the room, he thought of the best color for the walls, and he made a mental note to call a friend of his, an electrician who might rewire the house so that the lighting was better. He wrote down a list of the things the rooms needed, then talked to Sue.
"This place needs better light fixtures, a paint job, and some new chalk boards," he said. "We also need to clean the windows inside and out."
Sue smiled, "Well, it looks like that's going to be done today."
Jon turned his head and looked outside. Ponch grinned and gave his partner a thumbs-up as he and Melissa started to wash the windows.
Two weeks later, the classrooms were done. Each room was painted, and the windows had been cleaned. The floors had been mopped and waxed till they shone like new, while each desk and chair had been sanded and re-varnished. The rooms looked like new.
Ponch folded his arms across his chest and smiled. "We did a great job with these rooms, partner! So what should we do next?"
"Lets start on the downstairs rooms next. Then we can do the upstairs bedrooms right after the kids get up," Jon said to Ponch. "That way, they can be aired out before bedtime."
There was no answer, and when Jon looked up in annoyance, he saw that his partner had almost fallen asleep while standing up. Jon shook his head with a grin.
"Ponch. . .hey, Ponch did you hear me?" he laughed as Ponch slowly opened his eyes. "Wake up!"
Jennifer ran into the classroom and went to Ponch with little arms outstretched.
"Ponch. please paint my room next...please?"
Ponch slowly picked up Jennifer "OK, Hon, we'll paint the girls' rooms next. Now did you and the other girls decide what color you want?"
"Yellow! We want a yellow room," Jennifer said.
She put her hand in the pocket of Ponch's shirt. But when he saw her disappointed expression, he realized that he had forgotten the usual treat.
"No candy," little Jennifer said sadly in a soft, sweet voice. Ponch winced.
"I'll have some candy tomorrow when I come back, OK, sweetheart?" Ponch set the small child down. He looked over at Jon and rolled his eyes. "Maybe we could start on the bedrooms next?"
Jon laughed and shook his head. "You're such a pushover, Ponch!"
At that moment Jeff walked into the room. He stood in front of Jon and smiled hopefully.
"Mr. Baker, could you paint the boys' bedroom soon?" Jeff asked, then waited for an answer from Jon. "We'd really like it painted blue."
"OK, Jeff, we can do the upstairs bedrooms this week," Jon looked at Ponch and winked. "At least I don't have to bring in candy."
In the following weeks, Jon and Ponch worked all day at Central and put in as much overtime as they could. After their shift was over, they went to the Children's Home and spent the rest of the day painting.
Several weeks later, Joe walked by the break room, only to find two of his officers asleep. He stepped inside, then cleared his throat loudly to wake the sleeping officers.
"All right, you two -- as of today, your overtime is finished," he said. "In the last few weeks, your activity has been down. And right now, both of you look as if you could fell asleep in the middle of the freeway. During rush hour!"
Jon started to ask for a second chance from Joe, even though he knew that it was probably hopeless. But at that moment, Bear, Grossie and Bonnie walked into the break room.
"If you two would ever tell us what you're doing, maybe we could help you," Bear said as he sat down beside Ponch.
Ponch shook his head, and when he spoke, his voice was full of exhaustion. "We're trying to fix up the Children's Home where Melissa and Sue work. It needed painting. It still needs new carpet, and the kids could use a playground."
"Ponch and I wanted to give the kids a great Christmas," Jon added. "After all, they have so little."
Ponch looked around the room at his fellow officers and saw their questioning expressions, but he was too tired to understand why the others seemed upset. "Why are you all looking at us that way? We're doing it for the kids."
Grossie spoke first. "We can understand that. What we can't understand is WHY you two didn't ask us for help! We're your friends, and we would've loved to help the kids, too, if you'd given us a chance."
Bonnie stood with her hands across her chest, tapping her foot on the floor. "Yeah, why didn't you two ask us for help? Instead, you worked yourselves into exhaustion!"
She paused, then added with a playful smile, "Or maybe we're not your friends any more?"
Jon slowly walked over to Bonnie and gave her a hug. " Yes, you're all our friends. So, if you're still interested, want to go with us tonight?"
"Frank, you said they needed some new carpet," Joe was deep in thought. "I think I can help there. My wife's brother lays carpet, and he might know where we can get some cheap. He might even be willing to help put it down for us."
That night, Joe, Bear, Grossie, and Bonnie painted and helped to fix the Home up.
Melissa and Sue walked into the living room and found Jon laying on the couch. Ponch was sprawled on the Lazy Boy chair, and little Jennifer was between them on the floor, coloring in the new coloring book that Ponch had just given her.
Jennifer held her little finger to her lips and whispered to Melissa, "Shhh. . .they sleeping!"
In a few days, Joe's and Grossie's wives began to make curtains for the windows. Jon's sister sewed matching bedspreads, and soon the Home began to look cheerful.
On December fifteen, Bear and Grossie walked in as Jon and Ponch were finishing their paper work. Bear smiled shyly as he handed a large manila envelope to Jon.
"Jon, we all got together and gave part of our Christmas bonus for the kids' playground," he said quietly.
Grossie grinned and held out a glass jar that was filled with ten dollar bills. "I asked the dispatchers give their extra change for the playground. Some 'extra change,' huh?"
Ponch took the money from Bear and Grossie, and his voice cracked when he spoke. "Thanks, guys...you're the best! Now, let's go get that playground."
Early on Christmas morning, the officers from Central arrived at the Children's Home. Their arms were loaded down with brightly wrapped gifts and plates of treats.
As he put the presents under the tree, Ponch looked up and saw a large truck pulling into the driveway. "Hey, guys, the playground equipment is here! The truck just pulled in."
After they placed their gifts under the tree, each of the officers then went outside to help with the playground. Within a few hours, the playground was ready for the children to enjoy.
Mary Beth watched from the window as the CHP officers worked. Tears ran down her face as she thought about everything that they had done for the children.
She looked up at Melissa and Sue. "We need to get the children to do something special for the guys. They've already given us so much help, and now they're here with us instead of being home with their own families. We need to think of a way to show them our thanks."
One by one, the officers came back inside. At that moment, ten young children ran into the room...then suddenly came to a stop. There, by the large tree, stood the friends they had come to know and love. Under the tree were many gifts.
"OK, kids, let's all sit down, and Ponch and Jon will give you your gifts," Mary Beth said.
The children obeyed with whispers and giggles. Jon handed Jeff his presents, then laughed when Jeff yelled happily, "Look, I got a fireman's hat and a fire truck, just like I wanted!"
Jeff held up his precious gifts for all to see, and there were "Ooohs and ahhs" of admiration. After the others opened their gifts, Ponch gestured at the back yard.
"Santa left one more present for everybody to share," he winked at Melissa and the others. "Take a look outside for yourselves!"
Ten voices chorused, "Can we go out and play?"
The CHP officers followed the children outside and joined in the happy, noisy games. But as he helped Jennifer with the slide, Jon saw Jeff standing in a corner of the playground. The little boy clutched his precious fire truck in his hand, and tears silently streamed down his face.
"Hey, why is my buddy so sad?" Jon knelt down to Jeff's level, then tried to make him laugh. "I'm pretty sure that it's illegal to be sad on Christmas Day. You don't want me to have to write you a citation, do you?"
"I...I want to be a firefighter when I'm grow up. But I can't," Jeff whispered between gasps. "But I can't be one 'cause I'm just an orphan."
"Look, Jeff, that has nothing to do with it," Jon spoke softly, calming the child down with his voice. "You can be any thing you want to be. And you won't be alone all your life, either. Someday, you'll have a wife and a family of your own to make holidays special."
Jon put his hand on Jeff's shoulder, then spoke with quiet authority. "No matter what happens in your life, Jeff, I want you to remember what I'm going to tell you. Never give up on your dreams."
Reassured, Jeff smiled at Jon, then ran to rejoin the others for a game of volleyball. But before he followed the little boy, Jon stood by himself in one corner of the playground for a moment.
He watched the happy children and his laughing fellow officers as they hit the volleyball back and forth to each other. No doubt about it...this had definitely been the best Christmas ever!
Twenty years later:
Jeff shook his head as he surveyed the remains of the old abandoned Children's Home. He stood there for a moment with a fire hose still in his hand, and memories flooded his mind.
"Hey, Jeff, you OK?" Captain Paul Wright asked as he walked into the gutted building.
"Yeah, Cap, I'm OK. I was just remembering. I...well, see, I grew up here."
Just then, another firefighter entered the room with a poster board in his hand. "Hey look what I found! Can you believe it? This survived, even though the rest of the place is trashed."
As Jeff looked at the list of CHP officers, a smile spread across his face. "I remember this. All the kids help make it. We had the officers sign it. They gave us kids a great Christmas that year. They worked hard every day after work and on their days off, just to get this place fixed up for us."
One name in particular seemed to stand out, even in the poorly lit room. And when Jeff spoke again, his voice was barely above a whisper. "Officer Jon Baker. He helped me that day, more than he ever knew. He told me never to give up on my dreams. He made me see I could be a firefighter, even if I was an orphan."
Captain Paul Wright put his hand on Jeff's shoulder and smiled. "Then I'm especially glad Officer Baker talked to you that day. You're one of my best firefighters. And remember, Jeff, you're not an orphan any more. You have a family now."
"I'll remember, Cap," Jeff looked down at the poster board, and his eyes were full of distant memories. "Just like I'll always remember the best Christmas ever and the people who made it happen. The men and women of the CHP."
Remember: what we say today may affect someone's tomorrow.