Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Memories of Christmas Past

I find myself becoming melancholy every year around this time. A mixture of sadness and joy. Happiness and pain. This year is no different, except there seems to be more sadness. Sometimes I trace this back to earlier memories. And I always wind up at the same place, same time.
I was 17, and I had just started working retail sales for a local department store. We'd spent days, weeks decorating and getting ready for the Christmas rush. Most of the time I was too busy to pay much attention to the shoppers. Management placed me in toys. Wow! My job, to help every shopper find just that right thing for their little bundles of joy. And to keep the aisles straight and orderly. That was a major task in itself.
While drifting through each aisle, picking up tossed items and placing them back on packed shelves, I happened upon a woman who was picking up items and placing them back on the shelves. She wasn't the typical shopper there. Her clothes were clean, yet well-worn. Her hands wrinkled and red, from hard work. Her eyes a light grey, that reflected sadness not joy of shopping. I asked her could I help her. She smiled sweetly and said, "I have eight grandchildren to buy a present for, and I only have eight dollars. Can you help me find something they might like?"
My heart broke. Even in those days when prices weren't as high as today, finding something for eight children with only eight dollars was virtually impossible. I told her I needed to do something, and then I would be right back. I went to my manager, explained the situation and got eight new tickets priced at a dollar. I asked her ages and sexes, and the two of us scoured the shelves until we finally found eight gifts. Eight nice little presents that only cost a dollar. I then took her to my register and rang her up, telling her I would pay the sales tax on the items.
Her eyes lit up with joy, as I placed her purchases in bags and wished her a Merry Christmas.
Fortunately for me it was payday, and after she left I had the manager clear my register of the phony tickets, rering the items and we split the cost of the gifts, minus her eight bucks.
That was one of my favorite Christmas memories, and yet each year it brings a touch of sadness to my heart, because I wonder. . . how many grandmothers are out there with eight grandchildren and only eight dollars to spend.
Christmas has over the years become more and more commercial. And today's children seem to expect not just A GIFT, but THE GIFT. I hear it on radios, see it on TV and read it online. Parents searching and willing to pay three times the amount of the item just so their little angels can have it on Christmas Day.
That's a wonderful thing. But every year there are thousands of children who receive little or nothing. And there are thousands of parents who for no reason of their own simply don't have the money to buy presents. They're wondering where they're going to find food this year.
So, yes, Christmas for me holds a certain amount of joy. I love seeing my children, my grandchildren. I love giving presents. Cooking that huge Christmas dinner. But it also brings a tinge of sadness, and each year I take a moment to pray for those who have been less fortunate, and I think about that grandmother, and how just for one year at least she was able to give her grandchildren a nice present for $8.00.

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