Driving the sixteen or so miles to town on Christmas Eve was a trip I hadn't planned on, for I was content drinking a glass of wine and watching the marathon of Hallmark Christmas movies and staying out of my wife's way, as she made the final preparations for Christmas dinner. She was knee-deep in Christmas cookie dough, batch after batch in and out of the oven.
As I finished my glass of Blue Teal White Zinfandel, which coincidentally timed just right at the ending of 'November Christmas, ' one of my favorite Christmas movies about the spirit of giving, my wife Victoria, called to me.
'Hey babe! Would you mind running into town to pick me up a few things? ' She just hates shopping!
I picked up my empty glass, turned the TV off and padded into the kitchen. 'I guess I could do that for you, ' I said to her as I kissed her neck and stole a fresh, soft, hot cookie from the pile she was forming.
'You better make me a list if it's more than two things, ' I slipped on my shoes, and headed out the door to warm up my jeep. When I emerged back into my warm house, shaking off the cold, I was handed a quite sizable list of items ranging from eggs, vanilla, graham crackers, Maraschino cherries, bananas, crushed pineapple, Cool Whip, a ten dollar mixer, cranberry sauce, stove-top stuffing, and even a fresh Butterball turkey (good luck on that one!) My eyes skimmed the rest of the list, dumbfounded.
'Wow! I, I didn't know-' She cut me off in mid-sentence with a kiss and ushered me out the door. The roads had cleared somewhat, from the last two days of a very nasty and cold winter blast, that left the city in a near shut-down status.
Christmas Eve at Walmart was maddening. The crowds of people in their shopping frenzy, were for the most part, pleasant. Last minute gifts for their children and loved ones were on their minds, and I, like several shoppers in front of me, was in the checkout line from hell.
The checkout lady was pleasantly chatting away, as she scanned item after item, the lady's cart only half empty, she eyed the ever-increasing total with worry. My basket was almost filled to the brim with Christmas Dinner entrees, and all the trimmings. A fresh, twenty-five pound Butterball, the prize of my shopping safari, lay nestled next to a 30 pack of Coors Light, a 18 pack of Michelob Ultra bottles, a bottle of Crown Royal, and two more bottles of Blue Teal; after all, this is a festive time of the year.
Getting closer to check-out. Guy in front of me has two jazzy bikes, already put together. Smart guy. Thinking back, it seems just like yesterday, buying two bikes boxed up, for my boys. Staying up past midnight on Christmas Eve to Christmas morning, trying to put them together, trying to make heads or tails from the directions. After several 'Kelly' fits, my wife of course, took the job over, finishing the project without even using the directions. How do they do that? Women are amazing creatures.
The guy with the bikes, balances the two-wheelers out of the store, on their way home to await his children's delight in the morning's surprise of all surprises. My turn. Wheeling my overstuffed cart up to the pleasant and smiling cashier, I noticed the lady behind me with two small children. Their hands combing through the goodies set up strategically adjacent to every check-out aisle, just to drive us parents crazy as we try to get in, get out, with our sanity intact.
I noticed her patience wearing thin as she tried her best to maintain her two children in line without incident. She had a small amount of food in her basket; a roasted chicken, two cans of green beans, two cans of corn, a box of instant mashed potatoes, a small tub of margarine, and a half gallon of milk. At the constant begging of her children, she relented, and added two candy bars to her cart.
'Excuse me Ma'am, ' I spoke up. 'Would you like to go ahead of me? ' I asked her, smiling, knowing the relief I just gave her. She nodded politely, and said thank you as she pulled her cart and her two children to the front. I smiled warmly at her two children, wondering what surprises await them in the morning.
The cashier totals the lady's bill, and she slides her card through the machine and says, 'Credit.' The cashier sheepishly tells her it's declined. She looses her composure just then, and remarks about her drunken husband spending the last of her paycheck on booze. She's in tears now, as she mutters an expletive in-between Merry and Christmas. She storms out of the store, empty handed except for her two children in tow.
I just stood there. Watched it all. I did nothing, and then it was too late. The embarrassed cashier apologized as I pushed my cart up and started to unload my prized bird, and all her treasures. For some reason, I tuned out all that was around me, my mind wondering what kind of Christmas that family would have. I didn't even hear the cashier's voice as she gave me the grand total.
I was not feeling pity I want you to know. I was angry. Angry at myself for not doing anything to help. I mean, I should have stepped up and offered to pay her bill at least. Yes, that's what I'd do next time. Yeah, next time, too late for that lady and her children. The cashier handed me my foot-long receipt, and wished me a 'Merry Christmas, ' and I replied the same back to her. My heart was still aching for that family.
Out of the store, cold fresh air to greet me, I looked up at the beautiful evening sky, stars winking at me. What a magical night this is, Christmas Eve. On the store's speakers, 'The Little Drummer Boy' was playing. A beautiful reminder about the true meaning of Christmas. Giving.
On the bench, next to the exit, was the lady who had left empty handed. She was in tears, oblivious to her two children's cries for food. She was so upset, that I was a little apprehensive as I approached her.
'Excuse me Ma'am, ' I said. Trying not to upset her even more by the intrusion. 'I want you to have this.' My words following my heart, as I not only offered her my bird, but my entire bounty, overflowing basket and all. She looked up from her tear-stained, make-up smeared eyes, and at first, couldn't say a word. Unbelieving, then she turned away with pride.
'I, I don't want your pity! I don't need a handout! ' She clutched her children closer to her and got up to leave. I reached out to her, touched her arm.
'No Ma'am, ' I calmly offered. 'It's Christmas! Please, take it. Take it all. It is my present to you. Really, I mean it. Please.' She could not believe her eyes or her ears.
'Nobody does this crazy thing! ' She said, unbelieving. I just smiled and again offered her my full cart, smiling.
'Merry Christmas to you and your family Ma'am! ' She gathered her children and slowly pushed the stuffed cart towards her parked car, probably way in the back forty I suspect, parking lot madness in full effect. She looked back at me and stopped an oncoming car, honking an oblivious objection to our magical moment.
'Merry Christmas to you sir, and may God bless you! ' She smiled back at me, eyes filled with tears. I turned away just then, not able to hold back my own tears any further. Tears of joy. Magical tears of joy that only seem to happen at this Magical time of the year.
As I started back into Walmart, I looked again to the sky. There was a special glow, that I did not notice before. It was the glow of Christmas Joy, Christmas Love. It was the glow of Christmas Magic. I re-entered the store and the cart lady offered me an empty cart, and before I could retrieve it, a heavy-set lady in a hurry, snatched it, and was off to the races.
I gladly took the next cart offered to me by the cart lady. smiling all the way into the store, as the left front wheel squeaked and skidded with every step I took.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of my fellow writers and friends! ; -)
This poem has not been translated into any other language yet.