This is a true story. This happened to me when I was an adult, but I had never appeared so childish in my life. I had an experience that completely changed me and I was left crying and shaking, but it was one of the best experiences in my life. I learned something. Something very important. Something that everyone should learn and they probably will, when they least expect it.
It was Christmas Eve. My mother always had a traditional open house and had done that every year since she and my father married in 1954. Always a huge banquet, tons of food and loads of people. Every year she would try a new recipe or two plus she always had some of her annual Christmas Eve staples: shrimp dip, sauerkraut balls, calico beans and spinach balls…..lots of hors d'oeuvrs, plus delicious ham and turkey, home made cookies on platters and delicious punch. She was always working so hard toward that party. Cleaning and cooking, making sure everything was beautiful and delicious. Every year us kids would complain that it was entirely too much work for her, but she always insisted on doing it every year.I lived alone and in a small apartment in the next town, but I got to my mother's house early to help her set up and do all the last minute things. Make the dips and platter everything, make sure the house looked nice and run any last minute errands. The last few hours before people started showing up was always chaotic. I hated it. My mom would be stressed and no matter how much preparation she had done, those last couple of hours were always crazy.
Honestly, I wasn't feeling very festive. I was doing the usual robbing Peter to pay Paul that Christmas and I was worried. Worried about paying my rent at the end of the next week. Worried about paying my gas bill. I guess the word worried isn't accurate. I was angry. I was angry that money was tight. I was angry that I worked two jobs and it was still astruggle to get things paid. I tried to get nice presents for everyone on my list, but I was so concerned that I over-extended my budget and I would spend the next three months catching up with my bills because of Christmas.
While my mother and I are busy getting things ready, she tells me that I had to run into town to get something. If my memory stands correct, I believe it was worchestershire sauce. One little thing that she just had to have for one of her dishes. So, I put on my coat and braved the cold wind to get that one little ingredient. This just added to my bad mood and my anger. When I got to the store, it was crowded. I wanted to just breeze in and grab that one thing and get out but with that amount of people in there, that wasn't possible. What she wanted was such an obscure thing, I had no idea what aisle it was in. I found myself walking up and down each aisle trying to find it. I couldn't find it anywhere. I couldn't find a worker to even ask and I wasn't happy at all. Worchestershire sauce! Damn it! Where could it be? I was so lost and mad, I didn't know what to do.
As I was stomping down one of the aisles with the hopes that I would find what I was looking for, I spotted an elderly couple. They were actually in my way so I paused a moment so I could pass them. Suddenly the man startled me when he reach over to his wife, squeezed her by thearms and yelled "No! You have to stay right here! Do NOT leave the back of this buggy!" while he forcibly placed her there. The woman didn't even look up. She didn't even have an expression on her face. She did what she was told and just stood there, looking down. The man took a deep breath and was obviously frustrated. I was so shocked by what he had just done, I felt so uncomfortable even witnessing it. I thought…What a horrible, horrible man! That poor woman! I tried to just go on with what I needed to do and I passed them without saying a word.
I got to the next aisle and I remembered something my mother always taught me. She always said "If you see someone who is mean, kill them with kindness". I stopped what I was doing, turned around and wentback to them. "Excuse me, Sir. Are you looking for something in here? Maybe I can help you." He looked relieved and said that he was looking for a box of stuffing and he couldn't find it anywhere. I smiled at him and told him to wait and that I knew exactly where it was. I was trying so hard to be kind and friendly, all the while feeling so sorry for the woman who was married to such a heartless man.
I found what he was looking for and raced back to where I left them. As I walked toward them, the man smiled but the woman still stood behind the buggy with her head down. He thanked me and wished me a Merry Christmas. He gave me such a broad smile I was actually surprised he had that in him. "You're welcome, Sir and I hope both of you have a wonderful Christmas" and I turned toward his wife and there was no response. I slowly put my hand under her chin to lift her face to mineand I said "Merry Christmas, Dear". Her eyes lifted up but she really didn't look at me, but she did manage a slight smile. Then within two seconds, her head went down and she no longer showed emotion.
The man moved a little closer to me and said "I'm sorry, Dear. My wife has Alzheimer's so she doesn't talk that much". My heart sank. I could feel the tears filling up in my eyes, but I tried to stand there and listen to the man talk. "It's so hard to take her out, but we're all alone now…..our only son died and we don't have anyone to help us". I looked down at their buggy and saw the box of stuffing, a small can of ham and a jar of gravy. That was all they had in their buggy and I saw visions of that being their Christmas meal. I kissed the man on his cheek and I patted the wife's hand and wished them both a Merry Christmas as I walked away. I didn't want the man to see how his last statement shook me and I knew my tears were about to pour. I don't think I was ten feet away and Istarted to cry. I turned the corner, looked up and found the bottle of worchestershire sauce I was looking for and quickly grabbed it.
By the time I made it through the store and into the check-out line, I was sobbing. Loudly sobbing. So loud and hard, none of the customers in the store said a word. I felt everyone being embarassed for me, but I was lost in an emotion I never experienced before. All anyone could hear were the uncontrollable sobs coming from Aisle number 9. I was crying because I was ashamed. I was ashamed that I was angry. I was ashamed that I felt I didn't have enough. I was ashamed that I was about to have a banquet to eat and these people had canned ham and boxed stuffing. I was ashamed because there would be so many friends and family at my mother's house that it would be difficult to find a seat. I was ashamed for thinking that man was mean when he was trying his best so his wife wouldn't wander off. I was so ashamed of myself, I couldn't do anything but cry. It was the hardest I had ever cried in my life. The tears and sobs were so uncontrollable, my ability to move up in line was gone. I stood there, in my own world, crying for everything I felt and everything I saw in the last five minutes.
The manager of the store appeared and asked me if I was alright and I couldn't speak. He didn't know what to do with me so he gently took my arm and lead me out of the line and before I knew it, I was in his office and he was getting me tissues. He asked me if I was alright over and over, but I couldn't explain why I was so distraught. I had so many thoughts and feelings at that moment, words couldn't be used. Only my tears.
After a few minutes I finally spoke to the manager and said "I'm fine now. I just need to pay for this and go". I grabbed a couple dollars and gave it to the manager, grabbed the worchestershire sauce and left the store. I could feel all the shoppers looking at me with such pity when I left, but I didn't care.
God had to teach me a lesson. He had to teach me not to be so selfish. He had to teach me to appreciate what I had. He had to teach me how lucky I was to have food and people who loved me. He had to teach me that there are people everywhere who have next to nothing and yet they appreciate it. I learned this lesson on Christmas Eve, in Aisle number 9.