90: Scrooge No More

90: Scrooge No More

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

Scrooge No More

We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.

~Herman Melville

I was not going to let a citywide blackout stop me. Millions were without power, but the mall had it and that’s where I was driving. It was the thirtieth anniversary of my annual Christmas Eve tradition of going to a mall, and even the crippling ice storm that had hit Southern Ontario wasn’t going to stop me. Traffic, on the other hand, might. I scanned the radio looking for a station not playing Christmas music. Not so easy on Christmas Eve.

The mall was fifteen minutes away on a good day, but not in this mess. I wasn’t going to make it. But I needed to make it. I also really needed to find one radio station, just one, that wasn’t playing carols. I shut off the radio.

Power lines were down. Traffic was being diverted. Was that pain in my chest something serious or just a cramp from holding the steering wheel so tight for an hour and a half? I thought I had given myself enough time to get to the mall before it closed. All I really needed was an hour. Even a half hour, but it was closing in less than forty-five minutes.

I managed to work my way across the lanes to take an earlier turn, pulled to the side, grabbed my smart phone and opened my map app. I couldn’t believe my eyes. A clear route presented itself — bright green lines on the road map, with no traffic! The other roads were mostly covered in red, indicating massive traffic jams. I memorized the route, put away the phone, and headed down the side street.

The radio had talked about the people working for the power company who were out in the mess, trying to get as much power back on as they could. I tried to imagine what they were thinking about their own Christmases. Were they thinking about the people watching them work from their front windows, as they tried to save Christmas? Or were they thinking of their own families, waiting for them to come home?

I drove cautiously. Every house I passed was dark. Nobody was out walking. Everywhere lay broken ruined trees. Some split in half, some devastated by the weight of the ice and lying in heaps on the ground. As my car turned a corner, the headlights lit a house with a tree cutting it in half. Where were all the people who lived in these homes? I pressed on.

We had power at home, having only gone without it for six hours in the middle of the day. For all the towering old trees growing in our neighbourhood, we were fortunate to have had little damage.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when the mall came into sight. Thirty minutes left to closing. I could make it. I could make it. The parking lot was jammed. I could sense the desperation coming from every vehicle competing for a parking spot.

Snow and ice had obliterated the lines indicating where to park. People took advantage of that. Was that a spot? No. That? No. Then after reaching the end of a row, as far from the mall entrance as I could possibly be, I saw brake lights on a parked car. Then back up lights. I put on my turn signal, claiming the spot. Then a car came down from the other side and the driver saw the same thing. But I was there first. Why was he waiting? Didn’t he see I was there first? Typical aggressive Christmas shoppers, I thought. Was it going to be war? This was the kind of thing I really disliked about the season.

The parked car began to back out. My heart raced. Which way would it turn? Luck was on my side and it backed out toward me. I pulled in, parked, and joyously headed for the mall with twenty minutes to spare.

Once inside, I was swept into the current of stressed, aggressive shoppers. I bought my chai latte to soothe my nerves and, with much relief, began my annual Christmas tradition of strolling a mall to watch all the mayhem die down. Up until those last few minutes passed, people’s faces were full of angst. But then when it was over, when the stores finally closed their gates, smiles began to appear.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no Scrooge. Okay, I am. But only for the lead up. I find those months almost unbearable. The pressure. The competition. I revel in watching firsthand as it all stops, and that is when Christmas really begins for me.

I wandered, watched and waited. As the minutes ticked away, the crowds thinned. But something wasn’t right. I checked the time.

It was ten minutes past closing and there were still a lot of people milling about. In all the years of my tradition, I had never experienced this. The malls would usually empty within minutes. When I walked out, it would be into a nearly empty parking lot. But this year, 2013, a half hour later, the mall still had people in it. It had to clear for the tradition to be fully realized. I had to feel like the last one out.

I rounded the corner and entered the food court and discovered hundreds of people sitting there! Food vendors were still open. After a moment of confusion, I realized these were the people who had abandoned their homes. This is where they had come. These were the people who had no power, and because of that, no Christmas. At least not the one to which they were accustomed. This Christmas, they were grateful for a mall they could keep warm in for a few hours more, for food vendors choosing to stay open to sell them a hot meal. Their traditions had been seriously interrupted, and yet here they were, smiling and laughing and letting their children race about the place in youthful exuberance.

Suddenly, my own tradition didn’t seem all that important. This year, if the urge hits me to carry on with my long-standing, Scrooge-like ways, maybe I will head out to the mall, and maybe I won’t. That night, though, I walked to my car, got in, and looked around at all the other vehicles parked where for thirty years it had usually been desolate. I turned on the radio and the first thing I heard was a Christmas carol. I laughed, cranked up the volume, and sang along all the way home.

~William Leskevich

Etobicoke, Ontario

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