From A Second Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul

The Not-So-White Christmas Gift

Through the frontwindowof the drugstorewherewe both worked as assistant managers, I could see Lamar eagerly awaitingmy arrival, his breath condensing on the glass as he peered out at me. A deal we had struck back in November had himworking Christmas Day andme New Year’s.

The weather outside was typical of Memphis at this time of the year. Lamar and I always hoped for a white Christmas, but this one had rolled by just like the previous twenty—cold and foggy, with nary a snowflake in sight.

As I pushed into the warmth of the store, Lamar looked relieved.

“Rough day?” I inquired.

Gesturing to the front cash register, Lamar moaned, “We had lines fifteen-deep yesterday. I’ve never seen so many people trying to buy batteries and film. Oh well, I guess that’s one of the joys of working Christmas day.”

“What do you want me to do today?” I asked.

“It will probably slow down around six tonight. The night after Christmas is usually dead. Then you can straighten this disaster of a toy aisle.” He stooped to pick up a stray stuffed animal, which he shoved into my belly. “And do something with this animal.”

That little plush dog had become our Christmas mascot. We seemed to be forever picking it up off the floor. Five, maybe ten, times a day. It hadn’t been a pretty toy to begin with. Now its long shaggy fur had become matted and soiled, as gray as the day outside, grimed with dust from the floor and dirt from the hands of children who had held it while their mothers waited for prescriptions to be filled. The toy had been marked down many times, without any takers. In that bright shiny world of Smurfs and Barbie dolls and G.I. Joes, I guess a little dog with dirty white fur just wasn’t the plaything of choice. Still, every kid in Memphis must have squeezed that puppy at least once that Christmas season.

The afternoon bustled by with refunds, exchanges and the sale of half-price Christmas decorations, but at six o’clock, just as Lamar had predicted, business came to a halt. Out of sheer boredom, I went to work on the toy aisle. The first toy I encountered, of course, was that fluffy dog with the droopy ears, staring up at me from the floor one more time. I started to throw it away and write it off the inventory, but, I changed my mind and stuck it back on the shelf. Sentimental, I guess.

“Excuse me.” A voice interrupted my deliberations. “Are you the manager?” I turned and saw a slender young woman with a little boy of five standing quietly beside her.

“I’mthe assistantmanager,” I said. “Howmay I help you?”

The lady looked down for a moment, then put her chin up and saidwith something like a rasp in her voice, “My son hasn’t had any Christmas. I was hoping you might have something marked down now. Something I could afford?”

I had grown cynical at the occasional homeless person’s plea for quarters, but in her voice, I heard a note of sincerity and a pride that made her ache at having to ask such a question.

I looked down at the little boy, standing there so self-controlled in the midst of all those toys.

“I’m just marking the toys down now. What is it you’re looking for?”

The young woman brightened, as though she had finally encountered someone who would listen. “I don’t have much money, but I’d like to buy my son something special.”

The boy’s face lit up at his mother’s words. Speaking directly to him, I said, “You pick out the best toy you could want for Christmas, okay?”

He glanced at his mother, and when she nodded her assent, he grinned ear to ear. I waited, curious to see which of the season’s most popular toys he would choose. Maybe a race car set, or a basketball.

Instead, he walked right to that gruff old dog and hugged it as tightly as ever I had seen a kid clutch a toy. I acted as if I were brushing the hair out of my eyes, while I surreptitiously wiped away a tear.

“How much is that dog?” his mother asked, unfastening the clasp on a small, black coin purse.

“It’s no charge,” I said. “You’d be doing me a favor by taking it away.”

“No, I can’t do that,” she insisted. “I want to pay for my son’s Christmas present.”

From the intense look in her eyes, I knew that she wanted to give her child a gift as much as he wanted to receive one.

“It’s a dollar,” I said.

She pulled a crumpled bill from her purse and handed it to me. Then she turned to her son and said, “You can take the dog home with you now. It’s yours.”

Once again I fumbled with the hair around my eyes, as the little boy beamed ecstatically. His mother smiled, too, and silently mouthed “Thank you” as they left the store.

Through the window, I watched them make their way into the Memphis evening. There still wasn’t a snowflake in sight, but as I turned back to the toy aisle, I found, smiling, that I had gotten that old white-Christmas feeling after all.

Harrison Kelly

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