Eleven

I was only stopping in for a second. The CVS was bustling with Christmas Eve “Eve” activity – folks stocking up on cards, wrapping paper and a couple of old ladies buying boxed wine that was probably a good deal in terms of ounces per dollar. Tinny carols were being played too loudly and the checkout people had a dazed look like prizefighters that hang on into the late rounds.

I got what I needed and was surveying the lines, trying to spot the one most likely not to cost me more than 10 minutes, for I too had other places to be. I noticed a boy – maybe about 10 or 11 – with his dad standing at a set of shelves that contained various “home décor” items: small fountains, scented fake candles, potpourri sets, that all looked liked they were made of cheap plastic and wouldn’t last a week.

The dad looked harried and his well-worn and rumpled clothes suggested poverty or something near to it. The boy had that look that when I was younger and less-PC I would have referred to as “slightly retarded”. He was clutching two bills in one fist. A ten and a one.

“What do you think she’d like the most, dad?” the boy asked, touching each of the boxes in turn.

“Which do you think? I’m sure you’re mom will love it,” the dad said gently.

I had a pang of guilt having blundered into this private moment and watching the boy’s concentration over choosing his mom’s gift. And my guess was that it was going to be her sole gift. A smile dawned across his face and chose the fountain.

I thought of the pile of brightly wrapped boxes under our two-story tree and felt ridiculous about tearing up in the middle of chaotic drug store.

I hope that fountain lasts a long time.

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24 thoughts on “Eleven

  1. It is easy to get lost in the world we live in. Doses of reality offer us room for growth and a greater appreciation for what we have. This Christmas season I have a couple of close friends who have lost jobs. A family in our church is reeling from the death of their 2 year old daughter. They have been trying to comfort their 4 year old daughter who can’t understand why she can’t visit her sister.

    We have a lot to be grateful for Steve. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

    • Merry Christmas Bec! I have a hard time thinking about tragedy like that in “normal” life, let alone at Christmastime. We’ve been trying to remind ourselves to be thankful for how fortunate and blessed we are and not get caught up in the little things.

  2. Darn it, Steve. I was hoping to get through Christmas Eve without going through half a box of tissues. But thank you for reminding me that the season is more than my personal frustrations and deadlines. Have a good holiday.

    • HG — I know, right? I should have balanced this against the part where I was walking back to my car and almost got run down by a woman that didn’t want to let up on the gas pedal for a second so that I could live.

  3. As somebody who grew up with various special needs family members, I’m always happy to see when “an outsider” gets it. Kids can be cruel and adults can often be unfeeling.

    It’s a good reminder, thanks.

  4. I went with some people from church to deliver presents to a family that couldn’t afford Christmas presents for their two daughters this year. Two things got me — the overwhelming thankfulness of the family, and the incredible generosity of the gift-givers. These two girls had five large bags of presents! We were all so excited to help a family in need and to see them be able to rest knowing that Christmas was taken care of was a real blessing this year.

    • I remember growing up that we didn’t have a ton of money and never had a crazy number of presents, but I can’t imagine being at a point where I couldn’t give presents. What a great thing to share with those who can’t. That really is the spirit of the season, isn’t it?

  5. man. I totally teared up! What a blessing for you to see that moment, though, to be reminded what Christmas is about. Hopefully that sticks with you as long as that fountain hopefully holds up.
    And might I just say, that story seriously sounds like one of those chain letters people pass around this time of year to remember what Christmas is about. You are a fine writer, Mr. Betz. Merry belated Christmas to you!

    • Hannah — I felt so self-conscious like I was some sort of intruder, but it was so good to see “true” emotion — not clouded with any self-interest or secondary concerns. Made me stop in my tracks.

      I hope you guys had a wonderful Christmas and a great start to 2012!

  6. I have known homelessness and poverty (the latter plagues me still, to a degree), and my son is autistic, so I very much appreciate this. Peace, goodwill, and a good amount of TLC is what I figure the holiday is really about, in part. I think it’s possible to carve past the material aspects and remember WHY we give our gifts.

    • jaklumen — absolutely. I don’t think it’s the giving of gifts that has undermined Christmas these days, but in losing track of the better reasons underneath all the trappings. I hope you guys had a great Christmas.

  7. So gracefully said, Steve. I often go into the grocery store so ticked off that I have to wait in line, then notice someone with food stamps or some such thing to remind me how much I have to be grateful for. This year my boyfriend read a story in the paper that anonymous people at Kmart and Target were paying off other people’s layaways right before Christmas, especially the ones with toys. I think all of us this year are just a bit more aware of what’s really important.

    This should totally be on the freshly pressed section.

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