A Christmas Thought (short story)
This time of the year, when once giving from the heart has since melted like the snow in Spring to the meaningless demand for expensive toys and gadgets; and Santa has waned to no more than the all-giving sugar daddy to each and every child, and a tireless crutch to the mindless parent during the year; “Santa’s watching so you’d better be good.”
And alas, there I stood in this huge department store amid a vast forest of toys, colors, and noises, fallen prey to this modern day hypocrisy known as Christmas. Being of a lower middle economical standard, and having with such stealth blindness juggled expenses and bills to afford myself the opportunity to plunge even deeper into dept. I pondered these playful wonders of modern day technology. All about countless numbers of people were doing as I in efforts to reward their children for their year of good service.
This was when I saw her. As fast as this seasonal frenzy had overtaken me just days earlier, it vanished for a time as I watched her. It must have been that she seemed so out of place in this hurry-scurry festive scene of Christmas shopping that she caught my eye. She was very old and her tattered, worn out clothing all too obviously reflected the fact that she couldn’t afford much. While others struggled about her almost comically laden with brightly colored packages, this old woman had nothing more than an old purse dangling from her arm. Slowly she moved, seemingly pained with the infirmities which accompany old age. She appeared overweight for her stature which I’m sure added to her discomfort. When she stopped in front of the doll section her old, pudgy face glowed with joy. Undoubtedly a doll for a little granddaughter, I was sure no more as she couldn’t possibly afford more. I watched as she studied each doll
and its price tag, going from one to the next. Finally she stopped to give particular attention to one little doll adorned with colorful ribbons and big bright blue eyes. Then putting the doll back, she opened her purse and I watched as she counted the small amount of money that she had.
By this time I had become so unexplainably absorbed with watching the old woman, who with a smile closed her purse, retrieved the doll and walked slowly and painfully to the checkout counter to wait in line. Around her the noise of parents and children alike waiting their turn to check out didn’t seem to bother her as she patiently waited, holding the precious little doll for an equally precious granddaughter. Finally when her turn came, an all to cruel yet human trait appeared in not only the people waiting behind her but the checkout clerk as well. Their impatience to maintain a steady flow of human traffic through the turnstiles came to the forefront almost obliterating this seasonal spirit. This didn’t seem to deter the old woman from slowly and surely counting out the correct change, leaving her very little to return to her purse.
With this done and the doll tucked away in a shopping sack, she proceeded through the large glass doors and out into the cold December night. A passing thought, “one special gift for one special person,” went through my mind as I continued my own, now more selective tour of annual duty. Looking over my shoulder for one last glimpse of the old woman, I suddenly felt as if struck by a jolt of electricity as I saw her on her back in the slushy snow, struggling like an over-turned turtle.
Bolting out the door hoping to be the first to reach her, I almost found myself lying next to her on the slick sidewalk. Nothing was said as I struggled to lift her up. Once this was accomplished I asked her if she was alright. Instead of answering she started looking around for her package. I spotted the torn, soaked paper sack some ten feet away in a slushy puddle and went to retrieve it. The doll had come half way out of the sack and her little blonde curls were now filled with water and slush; and as I handed it back I searched the old woman’s face for even a trace of sadness, there was none. Instead she looked at me smiled and said, “thank you young man, it’ll dry out, it’ll be alright, Merry Christmas.” Then holding the doll in both hands, she turned and went on her way, much slower and much more cautiously. I just stood there and watched her until she finally disappeared in the crowd and darkness and thought to myself, “maybe Santa Claus isn’t a man after all.”