‘Tis the Season



The thrift store seems more crowded than usual. I push the shopping cart toward house wares in the back. I need some vases for the nursing home. I can buy used ones for fifty-five cents. One of the local grocery stores has donated five cases of roses for our residents. It’s Christmas time and people want to do something nice for old people who don’t have family.

I turn down the children’s clothing aisle and five people have to move aside to let me by. Past that, shoppers line the perimeter of the space filled with larger items. An ugly chair upholstered in a black and brown patterned geometric fabric squats next to one of those wooden crate sofas, popular in the seventies. It has no cushions. A  pool table with a tear in its felt stands at a tilt, and a toddler’s red race car bed is missing its mattress. Three mismatched dining chairs, a kidney shape glass-topped coffee table, and a leaning brass floor lamp complete the sad ensemble.

A small bent man wearing white patent leather shoes, skinny jeans, a shiny silver belt, and a plaid button down dress shirt pulls the white tag off the naked sofa and turns toward the cashier, saying to himself, “I think I can find some cushions down the road.”

As I load the cart with glass bud vases, I hear three little girls vying for their mother’s attention with their questions:

“I like this one, can we get this one?”

“No Mommy, this one, it’s prettier.”

“I like the first one. It’s purple. I love purple. You love purple too Mommy, don’t you?”

“Quit arguing,” their mother says. “Or we won’t get any of them.”

The three little girls point out other things, asking if they can put this or that into the cart. If they can take things home to play with. “No.” Their mother says, her voice rising. “We’re not here to buy things for you.”

I find six green vases, three clear, one heart-shaped, and four white ones. I won’t pay over a dollar for any. The largest ones are ninety-five cents.  With the bottom of the cart covered, I turn toward the book shelves. I hit pay dirt finding two books on CD, James Patterson’s I Alex Cross, and Fanny Flagg’s Welcome to the World Baby Girl. They aren’t priced, so they cost only a dollar each.

Over in the holiday decorations, I can still hear the three little girls talking over top of one another, listing things they want for Christmas, asking their mother what she thinks Santa will bring.

The line to checkout stretches halfway down the aisle of women’s blouses.  The cashier calls for backup. A woman in a blue uniform comes from the ninety-five cent bin section, steps to the cash register opposite mine, and the line splits. When I reach my turn, I find myself across from the woman and her three little girls. They surround the cart as their mother places a box of purple Christmas ornaments, several pieces of clothing, a glass bowl, a basket, and some sort of game in a box on the counter.

“We can open it when we get home,” the smallest girl says to one of her sisters.

“God Dammit, I told you No three times already,” her mother yells. “It’s for your brother for Christmas.”

The little girls stop talking, all three look up to their mother. People around them stop talking. The store becomes still and quiet.

“That’ll be six twenty-four,” the cashier says.

The woman hands over the money, takes her bag, and the three little girls follow her out of the store.

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10 Responses to “‘Tis the Season”

  1. SocietyRed Says:

    Wow! What a powerful story reminding me of how holidays sometimes accentuate sad and difficult circumstances. I often complain about things in my life (mostly job related) that many would take like a winning lottery ticket. I should knock that off.
    Very well done. Thank you for the reminder.

  2. OldMack Says:

    Poverty will make preachers cuss.

    I found James Patterson’s I Alex Cross in the waiting room of the Coumadin Clinic (Bay Pines VAMC) Friday morning early. Why do you suppose one of the other two hundred old vets hadn’t grabbed it. During the 55 minute wait for the lab report, I read enough to want to finish it. I’m emailing a picture card.

    • train-whistle Says:

      I know Mack. Poverty sucks. I keep seeing a commercial on television about fast cash loans with buxom females and elves decorating flashy Christmas trees, “no car titles needed, loans up to $10,000 and you keep your car!” No wonder this country is in such a mess.

      I got hooked on the Alex Cross stories last spring driving back and forth to see about my Dad.

  3. Southern Sea Muse Says:

    Very powerful and well written. And excellent timing for us all to maintain our focus at this point in the calendar year! Thank you for this beautiful piece.

  4. Curly Says:

    Cinematic thrift store scene, Train. Pointed juxtapositions there. Things hanging in the wonky air. Good eye/ear, girl.

  5. allthingsboys Says:

    I was thinking earlier about simple things of life. Picnics, church baseball games, lazy days with board games. When did life become so much about things? Last year, our boys got absolutely nothing from us, because I couldn’t function in my cloud of grief, and they did not give me a list, though I bugged them to. When it came time to open gifts and there weren’t any, they were not upset. They too, understood what was going on with me, and appreciated that we were all together, alive and healthily. I have never liked Christmas as much as Thanksgiving, simply because one is about appreciating each other simply for being there, while the other seems to be more about appreciating gifts instead of each other. Great post.

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