Just when she was about to give up and simply decide whether to end her life by pulling a trigger or swallowing pills, Jan Mason learned there really does exist something called the Christmas spirit.
The 33-year-old Hyattsville mother of two needed $1,300 to keep her house from being sold to pay a debt. She talked about the problem in a weekly counseling session she attends and when the session ended, one woman gave her $5, another offered $100, and a third woman gave her a check for $1,195, altogether enough to save her house.
Now the only thing Mason felt she needed to make her holiday perfect was a Christmas tree for her two sons. Desperate, she offered to make weekly payments to a tree salesman if he would let her have a tree.
But the man, Bill Gosnell, insisted she take a tree for free and Mason drove away with a $70 fir tree stuffed in her trunk.
"I want everybody to know that there is such a thing as kindness, that human beings can and will help each other," said Mason, sitting in her Hyattsville home Monday.
"When we got that tree, I was crying, my sons were crying," she said. "We got one strand of lights from neighbors and a friend bought the other strands for me."
The fir tree, now decorated with red velvet bows, candy canes and ornaments, stands in front of a picture window for all to see, a seven-foot testimony to the Christmas spirit.
Mason, who is a manic-depressive, has been unable to hold a job for four years.
She lives in a modest three-bedroom frame and brick house with a wood deck on the back and a breathtaking view of a patch of woods and the roofs of high-rises beyond. But her illness and a back injury have left her financially dependent upon an ex-husband, family and friends.
She receives $329 a month in public assistance, $201 in food stamps and some child support from her ex-husband whom she divorced eight years ago, she said. She manages to pay her $605 monthly mortgage with the help of friends.
"You see those gifts under the tree, friends gave those to us," Mason offered, her eyes brimming with tears. "You can look on the outside of a home and see the prettiness, but inside the people can be very sad and suffering. People forget that."
The woman who gave Mason the $1,195 to save the house said: "I had the money and I wasn't using it. It isn't really about money, though. The feeling that you care about another human being is more than money can express. I don't think the time of the year has anything to do with it."
And Bill Gosnell, owner of Bill Gosnell's Garden Center in Landover Hills and the man who gave Mason the $70 fir tree, said, "She could have called me in June and gotten the same response. I think the Christmas spirit, if you have it, is in your heart year 'round."