Home for the Holidays

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salvationarmy_homeholidaysLaurie Williamson presents a cheque to Captain David Allen in Mississauga, Ont. Over the past five years, he’s donated $50,000 to the Army

The Salvation Army gives hope to thousands across the country each year, and I’m sure they get some strange requests. But I’m pretty certain that a tuba never made it to their list until that day in 1996.

An Unexpected Request

My son, Tyler, was born in 1980. Diagnosed as autistic, he contracted leukemia at the age of 16. From July to December of 1996, he was in terrible pain and finally had to be admitted to Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children in November.

As Christmas approached, Tyler’s condition improved enough that the doctors gave us permission to bring him home over the holidays.

Tyler was due to be released the Friday before Christmas. We were overjoyed but we didn’t expect his reaction to the news.

“Oh, that’s OK,” he said. “I’ll stay here, thanks.” Many children who have been hospitalized for long stretches prefer to be where they feel secure, knowing they’ll have around-the-clock care.

One thing helped change his mind. My music-loving son suddenly announced the day before his scheduled departure that he would indeed go home with us—but only if we could get him a tuba. Tyler had always wanted to learn how to play and this was his chance. Maybe his last chance.

A tuba?! Where was I going to get a tuba overnight? All the stores were closed and it’s not like you can pick one up at a drive-thru.

Impossible Request
Frantic, I made a telephone call. I’d worked closely with Major Doug Hefford of The Salvation Army, one of my Rotary Club colleagues. If anyone could help, it was him.

“I need a tuba,” I told Doug over the phone. “Why?” he replied, not the least bit fazed by the request. I told him my story.

“When do you need it?” he asked.

“In less than 24 hours.”

“For how long?” he queried, not missing a beat.

“I don’t know. Probably just over the Christmas holidays.”

While I knew The Salvation Army was famous the world over for their bands and their music, I realized this was probably an impossible request.

Unforgettable Christmas
What happened next will always be a mystery to me. I don’t know how many favours Doug had to call in or where he got it, but a tuba was in my house the next day—and so was my son. He played that thing every minute that he could, all through the holidays!

From that point on, my son renamed The Salvation Army “The Celebration Army” in honour of what they did for him.

“Doug,” I wrote him in a thank-you note, “you made a sick boy very happy. The thrill on his face made the last two months seem far away. The battle is far from over but this weekend was a major gain for us all.”

Acquiring that tuba on such short notice was the most unselfish act I’ve ever experienced in my life. Without it, we would have had to celebrate Christmas in the hospital. It was one of the only times our family was all together during those six months. It was a Christmas we never forgot.

There for All
Despite a bone-marrow transplant, the cancer returned when Tyler was 19 and we lost him in 2000. I never forgot the kindness of The Salvation Army officers who ministered to our family and the dozens of others at the hospital.

Now I give back through my car dealership and through volunteer efforts with the Army, not just at Christmas but all year around.

I’ve learned Salvation Army members do that kind of thing all the time, from helping those with addictions to mounting massive rescue efforts in the face of calamity. And
through their kettle campaign, millions of dollars are raised to help thousands of children. They do it with no questions or remuneration asked. If you need help, they’re there.

by Laurie Williamson

PHOTO CREDIT: SNAP Mississauga

 

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