By Robert Cuff
My after-school job my senior year of high school was in a bakery attached to a supermarket in my home town, a sort of Jurassic Publix setup. On the night before Christmas Eve, we had orders for a little over 400 pies. The baker asked if I would work with him through the night and, needing the money for my college fund, being locked in an empty supermarket to bake 400 pies for twelve hours at overtime rates seemed like a wonderful idea.
The pies were done by dawn. Stacked boxes of still cooling apple, pumpkin, mince and a few other varieties lining every surface of the bakery, waiting for pick up on Christmas Eve day. It wasn’t until the store opened that morning that I realized how tired I was. It wasn’t until I looked outside that I realized it had begun to snow during the night and the ground and sidewalks were six inches deep in Christmas cheer.
I’d dressed for the warmth of the bakery the night before–sneakers, cotton pants and a light jacket–but it was less than a mile up up the main street from the bakery to my home, so I set off, initially glad for the cold to snap me awake even if my feet quickly went numb. A third of the way home, I was regretting my fashion choice from the night before with wet, frozen feet and hands rapidly chilling to ambient temperature in the pockets of my jacket, when a town police car pulled up and one of the cops aboard asked where I was going.
My hometown was a small place, but I didn’t recognize the cops and I doubt they recognized me. I suppose I must have looked pitiful and, probably, stupid to be out dressed as I was. When I told my inquisitor where I’d started my walk and my destination, all he said was: “Get in the back.”
It occurred to me that being delivered home at dawn in a police car was not the best look, but it wasn’t something to which I gave a lot of thought as I brushed snow off my eyebrows and glasses. A few minutes later, they deposited me in the still un-shoveled driveway of my home. A perfunctory “Thank you and Merry Christmas,” and I was back out in the snow, rushing to get inside to thaw myself out.
I recall that morning every Christmas since. My family would bring up the Christmas I came home in a cop car for a few more years. But all the life that that happened after that gradually erased it from their memories until I am the only one for whom the memory remains a permanent Christmas tradition.
Robert Cuff, a long-time Palm Coast resident, is a lawyer and a former Palm Coast City Council member.