While it wasn't the last day of shopping before Christmas, nor was it even a week before the day children dream about, the check-out lines' winding barriers controlled the impatient shoppers. Certainly, it's a hectic time for all Christmas shoppers, what with school events to attend, company parties, family gatherings to plan, not to mention the daily routines. Shoppers, I found, tend to be focused on their goals, wearing invisible blinders to those around them.
During my years as a box store cashier, I witnessed numerous arguments, brawls, fainting, and, yes, even pregnant mother's water-breaking while in my check-out lane. Being a wife and mother, daughter, sister, friend and employee, I knew all of their holiday shopping woes. How I dreaded the six to eight weeks leading up to the big holiday. What’s worse was that the bosses were grumpy, and who could blame them. Nobody was allowed to take time off, and nobody dared to even call in sick.
It was during a dream one night that my guardian angel must have woven a plan in my brain for it was one that would never have occurred to me on my own.
Come morning, I had never felt so rested, eager to begin my day, nor was I cringing at the thought of what I might face during my workday shift. Instead, I knew my plan - thank you, angel!
It was necessary that I arrive at the store early, for I had things to do. First, some shopping: spray-on hair colors - red and gold; reindeer antlers; ugly sweater with flashing lights, and a pair of shoes that felt like I was walking on a cloud. There. Purchases were made, so off to the employees’ changing room I went.
When I emerged, who should I almost get tripped by but my boss. “What on earth are you dressed up for??!!” Fortunately, he was laughing, which I hoped was a good sign.
“Well, Joe, I aim to brighten the time shoppers spend in my line today with the goal of cheering them up and getting them into the true spirit of the season.”
I must say that I wasn’t sure how to read his reaction. After several seconds of silence, he made a “we’ll see” kind of face and said, “I’m looking forward to witnessing your success. If it works, you just may have a bonus coming to you.”
A bonus! Such a reaction never crossed my mind. I just wanted to have a good day, so that I could return home to my family in a cheerful mood.
Thankfully, no co-workers were in the changing room. Chuckling, I thought of Santa in the poem, “The Night Before Christmas,” where it says, “He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work…”
The new ugly sweater not only matched perfectly with my green slacks, but it fit comfy too. There was no need to switch-on the lights just yet. The bath towel that I brought from home got carefully wrapped around my neck and shoulders to protect my clothing while the red and gold hairsprays alternately transformed my blond hair into layers for ornaments of 6 geese, 3 French hens and 2 turtle doves, that I purchased at the last minute. The reindeer antlers set perfectly on top of my head, to which 5 golden rings hung unevenly.
Looking into the mirror, all that was missing was a huge smile! Thank you angel; let’s put your plan to work.
Oh, my, but the looks I got as I meandered to my station - #9. Oops, I almost forgot to turn on my blinking lights. There!
If only I had thought to bring a camera! Heads were turning, shoppers and co-workers pointed and whispered. One soul shouted, “Love your Christmas spirit!” Ah, that’s what I needed to hear. While I felt totally out of my comfort zone, I was trusting my faith to guide my words and actions to make a difference for shoppers, as well as for their respective families.
Chuck, at station #8, chided, “I don’t know exactly what you are made up to be, but I love it!” If I’d given more thought to the reactions of others, I may not have been brave enough to carry out my dream. At station # 10, Amy couldn’t stop laughing. It wasn’t until after my cash register was ready to be put to work and I flashed on my ready light, that she remarked, “Girl, you look dashing!”
The first surprise of the day was watching shoppers shift from long customer check-out lines over to mine. Within seconds, my line had become the longest of all. Oh, no! What have I done to myself?!!
My first customer piled her shopping selections onto the moving belt. At first, I thought she had an endless bottom to that cart. “Thank you for opening this station! I have a baby at home ready to nurse and my Mother’s probably pacing the floor trying to sooth her until I return.”
Thankfully, my boss had sent a co-worker to bag the purchases. All was progressing nicely for about an hour or so. It was approaching Noon. Shoppers were hungry, as was I, and many would have to be home soon to greet their little ones when the school bus brought them home.
“Can we hurry-up this line, please? Some of us can’t stand for so long. I need a new hip and the pain is excruciating.” Okay, angel, let’s get to work!
The store was already filled with Christmas music. As “The Twelve Days of Christmas” began, so did I.
“Everyone in my line, let’s be merry and sing to this song! Whoever can sing all 12 verses perfectly will win a store gift card!”
Within seconds, the competition was on. Instead of grumbling, shoppers were singing. Not only were they doing so in my line, but also in those of neighbouring lines.
Little children in their Mother’s shopping carts were singing the repetitious verses, leaving their Mother smiling and bobbing her head as she joined in.
At the end of the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” I had those in my line vote as to who sang the song the best. Expecting an argument to break out, to my surprise, one tall, distinguished gentleman, with a very deep singing voice, was unanimously selected.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud of each one of you, please take a bow. (Most of them bowed.) And it seems that you have chosen, Mr. Deep Voice as our winner. Please come forward for your gift certificate.” As he approached, a round of applause accompanied him - and not just from my line, but from surrounding lines as well.
As I handed him the gift card, he shook my hand, looked at my name tag and said, “Sally, I have never had such a fun time shopping at any time or any place. You have brightened the lives of us all today with your Christmas spirit. Thank you. Please give this gift card to someone who looks like they truly need it.” A second round of applause and cheers of “Merry Christmas” filled the air.
“Sally, in my 30 years of business management, I have never witnessed what I did in your customer line! Here’s my business card. My company could use your ingenuity, cheerfulness and caring to motivate my employees. Please consider phoning me to meet and discuss your employment options.” Never did I expect such a reaction to my actions!
Silently, I offered, Thank you, angel. You changed the lives of many today!
As the tenth customer, the old lady, who couldn’t stand any longer, checked-out, she shared, “Lady, this is the most fun that I’ve ever had shopping at any time! Thank you. Merry Christmas!”
And so the shift continued with songs that sounded throughout the store’s PA system. “Joy to the World” was a huge hit, as were “Jingle Bells” and “Up On the House Top.” Tune after tune, we sang, as my cash register rang-up the goods purchased.
To my surprise, the hours checking-out customers sped by rather quickly. Thankfully, my shoes were working their magic at keeping my feet comfy.
When it came time to turn my station over to the next cashier, the head store manager met me as I carried my til to be turned-in.
Yes, that day changed my life for the next 25 years. Not only did I take advantage of Mr. Deep Voice’s employment offer, but I climbed the work ladder quickly to become his CEO within five years.
What I need to add here is that the big box store, where this story began, continued the tradition that I had begun that year. Store thefts, brawls and angry customers became almost non-existent during the Christmas season. Yes, there are always a few Scrooges that can’t find happiness. For them we say a prayer.
Word Count: 1,482