Mother's Christmas sacrifice teaches lesson about giving

Dec. 23, 2012 @ 01:00 AM

Kathy Proctor can’t think about Christmas without remembering the angel she encountered one Christmas morning more than half a century ago.
The year was 1959, and Proctor’s excitement for Christmas was like that of any other 8-year-old girl. As she blissfully played with her new toys that morning, though, she was about to learn that Christmas is about more than the presents under the tree.
A phone call around 10 a.m. alerted Proctor’s parents, Harry and Jessie Bryant, that some friends of the family had been severely injured in a Christmas Eve car wreck, as they were returning home from visiting relatives. All four family members — the parents and their two young daughters — had been transported to a trauma unit at what was then N.C. Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem.
“We had a tradition of always visiting our grandparents on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and that was our plan for Christmas Day,” recalls Proctor, who grew up in Davidson County and now lives in Thomasville. “After Santa came, we were going out of town.”
The phone call, however, sparked a discussion between her parents. The family’s injuries sounded very serious, possibly even life-threatening. The hospital’s trauma unit would be short-staffed on Christmas Day, and four patients in critical condition would be a huge challenge for the staff.
Harry Bryant looked at his wife, a registered nurse who had worked at Baptist and was familiar with its trauma unit.
“Why don’t you put your uniform on and go to the hospital to see if you can help them?” he said.
Jessie agreed without hesitation. She could visit her parents in Mebane anytime. Harry could take care of the couple’s four children, who were more than content to spend the day right where they were, playing with their Christmas bounty. But the hospital needed help now, and she would answer the call.
“That’s what nurses do,” says Bryant, now 86 and living in High Point. “I guess you would call it dedication.”
Proctor remembers seeing her mother disappear for a few minutes, then return in her nursing uniform.
“This was back during the time when nurses looked like angels,” she says. “She had that starched white uniform, with white hose and shoes and nursing cap. She was impressive — that uniform just looked so pristine. I still remember watching her leave to go to the hospital.”
She also remembers how proud her father was that his wife was able and willing to help. Proctor’s sister, Rebecca Payne of Raleigh, remembers that, too.
“We were talking about it, and she told me it brings tears to her eyes to think about how proud Dad was of Mother to go do that,” Proctor says.
“It was such an unselfish decision that they made. My parents were very giving people, and that really taught us the importance of giving. I think it was a wonderful lesson for us children.”
As it turns out, Bryant’s family members weren’t the only ones who thought her nursing cap looked like a halo that day.
“I got to the hospital and told the supervisor, ‘I’ve come to help,’ ” she recalls. “She just hugged me and said, ‘You’re an angel if ever there was one.’ ”
The work was intense. Three of the injured family members were still in the trauma unit, unconscious and receiving blood transfusions, according to Bryant. The fourth, one of the daughters, had undergone surgery and was recovering in the pediatric unit. Meanwhile, other family members had gathered in the lobby and were anxiously awaiting news, so Bryant acted as a liaison between the medical staff and the family.
Bryant spent most of the day at the hospital, rotating from one patient to another, doing whatever she could to help, before finally going back home, no doubt exhausted. She had missed going to see her family in Mebane. She had missed being able to spend time with her husband and their four children.
She had missed Christmas.
Or had she? If you ask Kathy Proctor, she’ll tell you her mother didn’t miss Christmas — she lived Christmas.
“My three siblings and I learned an important lesson that day,” she says. “We learned that the spirit of Christmas is best shown through our love, our unselfish giving and caring for others.”
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