By Chris Kempling
George Lambeth groaned and groggily sat up. He’d been on the heart transplant list for 14 months and he was getting worse as the delay stretched on.
They’d been warned a suitable donor could be found at any time, and that time was now.
Winnie, his wife of 38 years, hurriedly threw their suitcases, already packed for this day, into the car. They made it to the hospital in record time, as it was Boxing Day and traffic was light.
As George was being prepped he asked Dr. Swanson about the donor.
“Black ice,” the doctor said. “Bad accident with an on-coming semi. Twenty-four year old woman. Sorry, no time to chat now.”
A woman’s heart. George’s mind raced. As the anaesthetic kicked in, he wondered who she was.
He heard Winnie’s voice before he opened his eyes.
“George. It was a success! You’ll have to take things easy for quite a while, but Dr. Swanson said everything went very well.”
George lay quietly, feeling the strong steady beat of a heart, her heart, beating inside his chest. This was going to take getting used to.
The next few months went by in a blur, as the pain of having his chest cracked open faded, and the anti-rejection drugs did their work.
Pretty soon, he was back at his job at BSL Engineering — he was the “L” — a successful geo-technical firm.
He got some good-natured ribbing from his partners Branson and Smith about his new “lady parts,” but otherwise things went back to normal — at first.
Initially it was the dreams.
Nightmares, really. Bright, oncoming lights then pain and darkness and “momma!” screaming out in a woman’s voice. He didn’t say anything to Winnie, but she started to notice other things, especially as the holidays approached.
Christmas had never been big for George.
He and Winnie had no children — and frankly, he didn’t like the fuss and bother of it.
Their house was the only one on the block with no lights in December.
One day, he came home and the word “Scrooge” had been stamped into the snow on his front lawn.
He angrily erased it and stared up and down the street to see if a culprit was anywhere near.
“Humbug!” he said loudly, not caring who heard it.
First it was the eggnog. Winnie loved it and always bought a few litres as Christmas approached. She called in to his den, “George! What happened to the eggnog?”
“I drank it,” he shouted back.
Winnie came and stood in the doorway, a quizzical look on her face.
“But, you hate eggnog.”
“I like it now. Don’t know why.”
Winnie just stared at him as he turned his attention back to the computer.
“What are you listening to?” she asked.
A blues song was playing quietly as he checked his emails.
“The blues,” he answered.
“You’ve never liked the blues, always said it was depressing.”
“Whatever, Winnie. Don’t you have something else to do?”
“Okay, grumpy bear. Lunch will be ready in 10 minutes.”
“Hmph,”George responded curtly.
The next day, George headed out to Canadian Tire to get some de-icer for the sidewalks.
For some reason, he was drawn to the Christmas supplies.
On impulse, he bought an illuminated manger display and a full set of house lights.
When Winnie got back from her own shopping, he had most of it installed.
“George! What are you doing? I mean, it looks great, but I don’t understand.
“You’ve never wanted Christmassy stuff before. What’s going on?”
George paused, leaning against the step-ladder.
All of sudden, he burst into tears.
“I don’t know! I don’t know! What’s happening to me, Winnie?”
The next week, they were in Dr. Swanson’s office for his regular check-up.
George didn’t really want to talk about what had been happening, but Winnie insisted. Dr. Swanson listened quietly.
“Cell memory,” he said. “It’s a phenomenon in transplant patients. There is significant anecdotal evidence that recipients take on some personality quirks and preferences of their donor.
“No hard proof yet, but some serious research into it has started.”
Eggnog? The blues? Christmas decorations? George had to find out.
He searched news stories for a Christmas-Day accident the year before.
Samantha Gray, 24, was on her way home from Christmas with her family in Pemberton when her car slid on black ice into the path of an oncoming semi.
She remained alive long enough to donate her organs, including a heart for George.
There was mention of a memorial Facebook page.
George slowly looked at the tributes from Samantha’s friends and family.
She was a waitress and aspiring blues singer. And, she loved Christmas — the lights, the decorations, a manger display she helped set up each year, the gifts and eggnog.
George looked thoughtfully at the computer screen. The one-year anniversary of the accident was approaching — and Samantha’s mother had invited anyone to post something.
George hesitated for a moment, then typed.
“I’m George Lambeth. I have Samantha’s heart. Do you want to meet?”
He and Winnie arranged to meet her at a Starbucks.
Anne Gray was an older version of the tribute picture on Samantha’s Facebook page.
What he wasn’t expecting was his reaction — his heart’s reaction — when she said, “Hello.”
It was like Samantha’s heart did a somersault.
He was so flustered he couldn’t speak. Anne just looked into his eyes knowingly and, putting a hand on his arm, said, “Let’s sit down.”
They talked and one hour stretched into two. Outside the coffee shop, when they were about to say goodbye, Anne said, “I know this may not seem right to you, but I have a favour to ask.
“I’d like to give you a hug and put my ear to your chest, so I can hear my baby’s heart beat one more time.”
Her eyes had a look of pleading.
George glanced at Winnie, who silently nodded.
Anne’s voice choked with tears as she pressed her ear to George’s chest.
“Oh, Sammie, Sammie! How I miss you.”
Soon, all three of them were hugging and sobbing together.
As they drove into their driveway, the lights glowed softly and the manger display once again told the story of the first Christmas.
George gave Winnie a kiss on her cheek.
“Samantha and I need some eggnog.”