68. Christmas Spirit in Aisle Three

68. Christmas Spirit in Aisle Three

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

Christmas Spirit in Aisle Three

Set your heart on doing good. Do it over and over again, and you will be filled with joy.

~Buddha

The wind was howling and the snow swirling when I looked out my window. The worst winter in thirty years, and I was here for it, after twelve years away in Florida. It was a bitter cold night in the single digits; a perfect night to stay in and watch a Christmas movie after adding some finishing touches to the tree. I reached for the remote and my soft, fluffy new blanket. As I sat down, my cousin Joey called, “Get ready, we’re going to Walmart.” Before I was able to protest, he was in my driveway, honking impatiently.

“It’s three days before Christmas. What’s left for us to do?” I protested, with my teeth chattering, as I slid across his warm seats. He laughed, “You’ll see.” This better be good, I thought. A blast of cold arctic air stung our faces as we made our way across the frozen parking lot. About a dozen or more cars were parked close to the door. It was busier than I thought it would be; maybe everyone was looking for last-minute deals.

I love being in the stores at this time of year. Music playing, lights twinkling and the fun of watching people shop and share good cheer. Of course I headed directly to the toy department. This was exactly where I wanted to be. This was the fun stuff, seeing the shopping carts go by with noisy toddlers onboard who were mesmerized by plush, red fluffy animals and toys placed right within reach. Aisle after aisle of “ho-ho-ho” and “Merrrry Christmas,” combined with children’s laughter added to the excitement. This definitely was the action spot. So many choices, all tempting, yet many moms just passed by. Happy little faces began frowning and lips curled. Where were their toys?

That’s when I noticed most carts were sparse, some were even empty. Maybe these people were shopping for needs… not wants. It was apparent looking into the carts that this wasn’t about toys. I silently wished each child could pick a toy.

As I stood there, the joy I had felt a few minutes earlier slipped a little. Joey read my mind, whispering, “That’s what we’re here for. Let’s go.” Confused, I followed him to the back of the store. He said to the manager, “I’m here to pay off some kid item layaways.”

“It’s too late. That department closed yesterday,” was the manager’s reply. Disappointment swept over Joey’s face. For a moment, he and the manager just stood there. But I could see Joey’s mind was in motion. “We’ll do something else instead.”

“Come on,” he said to me as he headed to the front of the store. When we reached the cashiers, he whispered to one, “I want to buy several gift cards of various amounts.” She carefully picked out different happy cards; some with Santa’s face, some with reindeers and sleighs and some with snow scenes.

Joey took off with the cards in hand and I followed him. He took his time walking around, and then spoke to a few moms and kids. He was getting a feel for each individual family, discussing how they spent Christmas. What were their traditions? His approach was intimate and personal. He chatted a few minutes, then simply said, “Merry Christmas” and handed them a gift card. Then he walked away as quickly as he had arrived. Moms were stunned, staring at the cards in their hands. The kids giggled, as if Santa had just paid them a personal visit. That’s how the first few surprises went. Mixed emotions and expressions, all beautiful to see and experience.

One mom made a quick call, very excited, and then made a list. Returning to the toy section, she placed one toy into the happy hands of her child. Another one pushed her cart as if in slow motion. Her son’s little arms reached out for a stuffed animal, which she was happy to provide. This was much like a Christmas morning scene, where the kiddies sat by the tree, restless but excited, waiting impatiently for their special gifts. This and many more repeated moments of happy little faces brought the season back to life. Gone were the strained faces on the moms. Instead we saw waves of relief!

Soon Santa’s helper was looking for more families to surprise. A boy who was with his grandma was looking at catcher’s mitts. Joey gave her a gift card. She looked at it in disbelief. She rushed to the clerk, asking if it was real. Once she really, really knew it was, she handed her grandson the mitt he wanted, telling him, “Call your dad. Tell him we’re bringing home a Christmas feast.” And off she went into the food section. I loved watching this.

His final giveaway was to a young mom who was looking at the prices of space heaters. Joey approached and whispered to her. Instant joy came across her face as she accepted the gift card offered to her. She picked up the heater, placing it in the cart, and then went shopping for a doll for her daughter, all the while thanking him over and over. When she walked away, she looked back, seemingly to make sure this was real.

Joey’s Christmas spirit warmed my heart and the hearts of others that cold blustery night. I am so happy I took that ride with him. Many people’s wishes came true because of Joey’s unexpected gifts. By sharing his blessings, Joey got so much back, too. That was a Christmas shopping trip I’ll never forget.

~Paula Maugiri Tindall

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