Christmas Bonus

Holidays can be a great topic for personal essays.  What was your favorite or worst Christmas? What happened at the Thanksgiving table? Here is a short smack down essay I wrote for Tablet, a travel magazine looking for essays that combine Christmas with travel.  Should hear in a few days if it will be included in an upcoming issue.  Tablet is one of my favorite newsletters giving tips about new hotels and recommendations for unique destinations.  I won second prize last year for my story, “Night Train to Mombasa.” 

I sat waiting at the check in lounge of Eastern Airlines for our flight from Boston to Cleveland.  Two days before Christmas 1973 was not the best time to be making a presentation to a hospital board, but it was their choice. We were at their mercy, and I prayed that the weather would hold until we made our day round trip.  Over the loudspeaker I heard my name called.  When I went to the counter, the president of my company was on the line.  I was amazed that he managed to reach me at all. “Listen, I just plowed my Mercedes into a snowbank trying to get from Duxbury to Logan. The tow truck is on its way.  I’m  not going to make the flight. You’re going to have to go by yourself.  Do you think you can do it?”

Stuck in Cleveland

I had worked for the company for less than a year and was mainly assigned to writing offering memoranda for  potential lenders considering our client financial requirements for major construction projects. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to present our credentials.  It had taken months to set up this meeting, and we stood to bring in a $10 million loan. I looked out the window of the airport. The skies were gray and there was every indication that I might get stuck in Cleveland and not get home in time for Christmas.  I girded my loins, “Sure. I’ll do my best.”

“Atta girl.”  In those days, bosses could call their vice presidents girls.

The trip to Cleveland was uneventful despite the dicey weather.  We landed on time, and I caught a cab to the hospital in Berea, a nondescript suburb outside Cleveland.  All eyes were on me.  Ten male trustees stared at me as  I walked them through a complex financing option that would enhance their chances of qualifying for a loan – this was my firm’s specialty.  At the end of my presentation, the executive director mentioned that a big gorilla firm – Merrill Lynch – was also in the running.

Dreaming of a White Christmas

I gathered my papers and charts and returned to the airport packed with passengers carrying gift packages and running from one gate to another looking for a way to reach their destination. Bing Crosby was singing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.” Ugh.   A storm was blowing in from the north and there was a small window through which we could get out of “Dodge City” before the airport closed down.

I heard the magic words, “Eastern Airlines Flight 723 to Boston boarding,” which meant that I wouldn’t be stuck in Cleveland for as much as twenty-four hours.  We  landed back in Boston on time. The next day leading up to Christmas the city was hit with a full- on blizzard and cars were banned from the streets. Power went out and we huddled around our fireplace to stay warm. Instead of twinkling lights on Christmas trees, everything was in darkness.

I wasn’t sure when I’d hear about the dog and pony show, and who had won the beauty contest. I knew I had done well, but we had hefty competition and we were the scrappy little firm with a woman representing our credentials.  (I’m sorry to admit this bias, but that was the way things were back in the day.)

Good News

The firm was open between Christmas and New Year’s.  Every time the phone rang, I expected bad news.  Rather expect the worse and be surprised if the news is good – that was how I was brought up.  I was going over paperwork when my boss came into my office with a cigar in his mouth and a twinkle in his eye.  He looked like the cat that had swallowed the canary. He handed me an envelope.

“What’s this?”

“Open it.”

There was a check written out to me equivalent to one year’s salary. I was speechless.  “What’s it for?”

“We got the Berea deal.  It’s a bonus for your hard work.  I had every confidence that you would land the deal.  The director and the Board were very impressed with you, and they even complimented me that I allowed a woman to represent us.  In fact, I think it worked in our favor.”

Should I have eaten humble pie, fruit cake, or baked Alaska to celebrate the news?  I chose baked Alaska, setting the meringue on fire and digging in. Over the next six years, I crisscrossed the United States, and was promoted to Senior Vice President of the firm.  No apologies necessary.  But I’ll always remember that first Christmas bonus, which proved my worth and bolstered my confidence.