Twas the afternoon before Christmas Eve, and I had to run some last minute errands for the upcoming holidays. My list was simple: wax paper, gift tags, wine.
First I went to the Dollar Store for the tags and wax paper. I didn’t think I’d need a cart or basket, yet I ended up loading my arms with red plastic tablecloths, gift bags, tissue paper, candy canes, and the needed gift tags.
I went down the Christmas decor aisle and remembered that the puppy ate our star tree topper.
The only thing in stock that would match was a light-up angel whose face was more freakishly clownish than angelic, so our tree would remain topless.
I nearly forgot the wax paper, and after scanning rows and rows of aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and parchment paper, I realized they were out. No tree topper and now no wax paper. It was hard to shop for Christmas at the Dollar Store, but I didn’t want to battle the hustle and bustle of a larger venue.
Then my phone rang, and as I fumbled to pluck it from my purse, I dropped half of what wasn’t even on my list. It was my husband requesting whipping cream for the eggnog we’d serve the next day. Even though I needed a grocery store for the wax paper, I confess my irritation because whipping cream was just one more thing for me to forget or drop, and I do cry over spilled milk.
At this point, I became overwhelmed at how disorganized and unprepared I was for this particular Christmas. I hadn’t even baked a cookie yet. Holiday cards? I can’t even fathom posing for the perfect picture and addressing, stamping, and mailing envelopes. Bah humbug! Can someone get me a secretary for Christmas? For my career? For my life? Ugh! I am a procrastinator and it hurts me to the core when I’m forced to rush, rush, rush…
I’m also unfocused, so I can’t even make sense of the disunity of this story which is about a liquor store miracle. No, I didn’t learn how to turn water into wine, but let me try this again…
I was ill-prepared for Christmas and had to run out to do last minute shopping. When I stood in the pay line at the rundown Meadville Mall Dollar Store, I was emotionally touched by the two ladies checking out in front of me. The first was distraught over splurging a $100, just enough for her grandkids’ gifts. The second was wishing for her adult grandson, in the opposite line, to say hello to her. She pointed him out to her friend and whispered how she was afraid he was avoiding her. He held an empty picture frame and failed to look her way. I just wanted to tell her to speak up or wave or tell him she was there. Instead she screamed silence, and he left without acknowledging his grandmother whose picture would most likely not be put in his frame.
It was my turn, and I emptied my arms laden with unnecessary items. The cashier had a fun name, Timon, and a smile as wide as the meerkat character from The Lion King.
This Timon was also tall, slender, and caramel colored. He made friendly small talk about the holidays and asked the usual, “Are you ready for Christmas?”
I shrugged my shoulders and answered, “I’m a bit behind, but that’s nothing new for me. How about you?”
He smiled a grin of a 101 pearls, and said, “Yeah, me too. I told my kids it’s no biggie to wait a couple extra days to get Christmas presents. Prices will be slashed then, you know?”
I wanted to tell him how much I understood because I am Serbian Orthodox and celebrate The Nativity on January 7th and American Christmas on December 25th. Timon, obviously not a Serb, couldn’t afford gifts until the post-holiday sales. He was upbeat about it though… Hakuna Matata, no worries.
And there I was stressed about having a bare naked tree top. I wasn’t about to tell him that I celebrate two Christmases, with two family feasts, two gift exchanges, two trees…
I raced out of the Dollar Store with my Coach purse and Hunter boots (red, of course) not worrying about paying for Christmas but kind of embarrassed that I could and still be frazzled about “all the stuff I had to do” to make it just right. Timon would smile and give his family love, safety, and shelter first and gifts later when it was less of a burden.
I was relieved to escape into the brewing blizzard and jump into my reliable, warm car that I could remotely start from inside the store. I thought about how many people downtown don’t even own a car. People push strollers, pull wagons, and ride bikes in all types of Northwestern PA weather.
Next stop, Tops, the closest grocery in the little, outdated Meadville plaza I went to that day. I sped through the aisles for wax paper and whipping cream. I paid with cash, which I rarely carry. Behind me I noticed a petite elderly lady with a purple floral arrangement. The petals were bedazzled in silver and gold glitter and arranged in a festive winter pot. She also had a gallon of whole milk.
The little lady quietly asked how much the flower was, and the cashier told her it was 5.97. She slowly swayed her head back and forth. The cashier asked if she still wanted it and she shrugged, nodded yes, and opened her checkbook. She wrote “Georgie” in the memo and I could tell it was a hardship.
I got my change and was all set to go, but something stopped me from leaving Tops, Line 7. I lingered to hear the golden gal’s final total, like one watching the Pennsylvania daily lottery. I kept looking back at her, like some weirdo busybody.
The cashier told her the total: 9.51 Yes! I needed a number under ten and had enough. Before she stained the ink to the check, I handed the cashier the rest of the cash I had, a ten dollar bill, and murmured, “This is for her things.”
The cashier looked as if she didn’t know what to do with it. I sensed my lengthy presence made the customer uncomfortable, and I suddenly felt awkward. I lowered my head and muttered, “Please use this for her purchase.” I didn’t want her to notice me and sprinted out of Tops quicker than I did the Dollar Store. I can’t explain it, but I felt ashamed. It was Christmas and all I could do was give up a random ten dollar bill?
Yes, because I love to shop and buy things… things that clutter my closets, counters, and shelves. Things that waste my time to purchase and return. Things that cost more than our middle class salary covers.
I needed to escape the overwhelming empathy that I didn’t want to confront at the time. I didn’t want to see the less fortunate, the lonely, or the underdog while haphazardly tying up my selfish Christmas bows. But there it was, in big red and green bulbs scorching my heart at the Downtown Mall.
I live mere miles away from poverty. I have students without running water and electricity. I like to tell myself the most I can do is educate people, hoping this will break their cycle of poverty, but there’s much more that I can be doing for others.
My brain ached and I hoped my last stop to Wine and Spirits would leave my heart alone. I picked out some wine, and when I saw Bacardi Rum on sale, I grabbed a shopping cart and filled it. Crown Royal and Captain Morgans was on sale too. I got to the checkout with enough bottles to fill a box. I justified this purchase, knowing I would share these spirits with friends and family over the holidays.
Rita, the sweet raspy voiced cashier informed me that I qualified for a coupon. She tore it off her stack, scanned it, and announced, “There you go. You just saved ten dollars!”
“How much?” I increduously asked.
“Ten dollars,” she joyfully repeated.
With tears in my eyes, I said, “Get out of town, Rita! I just paid ten dollars for an elderly lady’s bill at Tops. I bought her milk and a sparkly flower.”
Rita shook her head with tears in her own eyes and said, “Isn’t it funny how the world works out like that?” At that moment, I believe both Rita and I felt the grace of the Lord, the reason for the season.
I asked what the coupon was, and she explained when you buy two bottles of Bacardi you get ten dollars off, for a limited time only. The customer behind me commented, “Don’t question it. Just accept it.”
It was as if she knew how much I questioned reasons big and small. “I certainly accept the deal, but I think this discounted rum means more. I’ve just been shown a Christmas miracle in the Meadville State Store!” The customer looked at me in disbelief, but in the context of that past hour, my perception of humanity and my place in it evolved.
Rita said, “It sure is somethin’ how the world works like that. Can I help you out to your car with all this?”
At that heart-glowing moment, I felt as strong as the Grinch when he lifted the Christmas he stole above his head ready to return it to Whoville.
I walked out of the liquor store feeling lighter, energized, and blessed. I loaded the box of booze into the car and looked to the sky and said, “Thank you!” Snowflakes bombarded my face and refreshed my spirit.
I drove away sobbing. It was a bizarre episode filled with sadness for the needy, gratitude for having all I need, and faithful that I was given a thumbs up of how good it is to selflessly give, no strings attached. My anonymous gift was almost instantly repaid, even though I didn’t want or expect reciprocation.
Lately, I’d been in a slump of feeling unappreciated, and this little miracle revealed how much better it can be to let go of entitled, expectant thinking that the ego fires within. No one owes me anything, and I’ve been working on accepting that. With Trinity fingers, I crossed myself over and over. I wished for more snowflakes, so I opened the sunroof, riding with peaceful hot tears and the relief of the winter heaven.
A dear friend recently sent this to me, and the words finally clicked today:
People learn to cross oceans in their own due time after conquering puddles, pools, lakes, and seas. Every stroke is needed to get stronger to help each other out. I admit to still needing an inner tube, but I hope to grow out of it.
When I got home, my husband apologized for forgetting the whipping cream. I admitted to initially being annoyed then said I was sorry. After all, he is the cook and was preparing a large Christmas Eve dinner. Harry is an example of a man who selflessly gives without expectations.
I cried again revealing how happy I ended up being to get the cream and a liquor store discount. At this point, our daughters came to the kitchen to see what all the commotion was about. I sniveled through my story and they laughed, and hugged me, and affirmed I was indeed a part-time sunshine and a full-time kook.
Who knew running errands for wine, wax paper, and whipping cream could be so enlightening and filled with unexpected insights and miracles. God bless us, Everyone!