It was Christmas Eve and it was snowing. Or maybe it wasn’t. Snowing, I mean, but that makes a better story. Maybe it started snowing later. Yes, that’s even better.
I was 16 years old and working at my first real job in a ten-cent store. For you youngsters, a ten-cent store is like a dollar store back before inflation. We stocked nearly everything, ash trays, socks, toys,hammers, skillets, toilet paper, and in season, Christmas decorations and school books.
I liked the job, liked the boss, who happened to be the owner which is the way things used to be done in retail…the owner working alongside the employees. I liked my co-workers and strangely, I liked working with customers. I learned a lot about customer service on that job and from that boss, things I’ve never forgotten and have practiced all my life.
Anyway, it was Christmas Eve and Bob (the owner) had sent all the working moms home and it was just Bob, Tony (the other teenager) and I, patiently waiting to close up the store.
Actually, I wasn’t feeling so patient. This was the first year I had earned my own spending money, and bought all my siblings and my mom and dad Christmas presents. Those presents were wrapped and under the tree at home. I wanted to be home on Christmas Eve, but I was in a small store on the main street of a small town waiting for the clock to tick over to 6:00pm, our advertised early closing time for Christmas Eve. As we all stood at the front of the store, we gazed out on an empty street. The phrase “not a creature was stirring” came to mind, but I knew Bob wouldn’t close the store a minute before 6:00. So, we waited.
You know what’s going to happen. You’ve read enough Christmas stories to know that at five minutes to 6:00, a battered and noisy car pulled up in front of the store. A young man in work clothes and only a sweatshirt for a coat jumped out of the car and ran to the door. The look of relief on his face when he pushed through and saw Bob, Tony and I standing there and all the lights still on was almost comic.
He went straight to Bob and breathlessly told his story…out of work, new job, just got his first paycheck, needs to cash it and buy some Christmas for his family. I glanced out the door and saw four faces peering at us through frost covered windows. My heart sank. I would not be going home anytime soon.
Bob put his hand on the young man’s shoulder and said, “Sure, no problem. Give me the check, I’ll cash it. Tell me how much you want to spend, and you and your wife go on back and pick out some things for the kids. Tony will bring them up to me to ring up. I’ll tell you when you’ve spent your limit.”
He looked at me, “Donna, I’ll take the cash register, you wrap the presents.”
I’m the oldest of five kids, all I could think of was the practical aspect… “We’re almost out of paper, I only have one kind left. How will they tell them apart?”
By this time, the young mother had entered the store. “It’s okay, we’ll work it out. The kids are in the car, the presents have to be wrapped.”
She didn’t look much older than me, and only had on an old sweater with baggy elbows for a wrap. On her feet were rundown flats that had seen better days, but the smile on her face mirrored the relief I’d seen on the young man when he felt Bob’s hand on his shoulder.
Everyone went to work. I could hear the young couple making their careful decisions about what to get each child and Tony began carrying their choices to the front of the store. Bob didn’t seem to be working very hard at the cash register, but I was soon busy wrapping what seemed like a lot of toys.
I didn’t miss the fact though, that every time Tony deposited some items by the cash register, Bob gave him a new instruction. I heard him say things like “…dolls” and “puzzles” and “books.”
When he wasn’t busy moving things onto my table, I saw Bob go to the candy counter and weigh up a bag of orange slices and another bag of chocolate stars. Then he picked up a couple of adult sized pairs of gloves and scarves and put them in a bag with a pair of lady’s tennis shoes.
I forgot to watch the clock. I have no idea how long we were there, but I remember Bob saying to the young couple, “Go ahead, pick out some more, you haven’t reached your limit yet.”
When the young couple finally came to the front of the store, they looked a little dazed at the pile of wrapped presents on my table.
In my short time in this job, Bob had started teaching me to work the cash register. I learned to do some running math in my head as I rang up items, so I had a general idea if the total sounded right at the end of each transaction.
My mouth must have dropped open at the total Bob announced, because he looked at me quickly and gave me a look and a slight shake of his head to stop any comment that was going to make.
He counted the rest of the young man’s wages into his hand, his “change,” and everyone began the process of carrying packages out to the trunk of the car while the mom climbed in the front seat and distracted the three children.
That’s when it must have started snowing. Or it didn’t. I don’t remember, but it would really top the story off, wouldn’t it, to stand at the door of that ten-cent store and watch the young family drive off into the snowy dusk of a Christmas Eve that at least one of us would remember for the rest of her life.
Because I do remember that Christmas. It was my first grown-up Christmas, the first year I earned my own money, the first year I shopped for presents for my family, and it was the year I saw a business man with a heart of gold create Christmas for someone who never realized (but must have suspected) they had encountered a Christmas angel.
Yeah, I don’t remember whether it was snowing or not, but every year I remember that Christmas.