I hate mornings.
I hate waking up and having to leave the confines of a warm, comfortable bed. I hate having to be cheerful for those who happily refer to themselves as "morning people" and by whom I seem to be surrounded. I am one of those people who has to slowly and quietly ease back into consciousness. For crying out loud, I was even born at night.
I am the Anti-Morning.
So there is little that would tempt me to drag myself out of bed after having done as most of you do for Thanksgiving; clean and cook for three days beforehand, host a houseful on the day and clean up for three days afterward.
I am not above being tempted by a sale and last year, there indeed was a sale on an item that I had wanted to give to my beloved. Unavailable for purchase online (because stores want you to actually go to the store for their super-de-duper sale), I had no choice but to make the trek. It is my devotion to said beloved (combined with an overwhelming desire to save money) that, while still exhausted from Thanksgiving celebrations the day prior, nonetheless lured me from that warm, comfortable bed into the madness of what has become known as:
Let me first dispel a common myth about Southern California. Despite widespread belief to the contrary, it gets cold here. Really cold. "Technically-freezing" cold. Many of our friends in the other 49 states (as well as most of the industrialized nations of the world) do not believe that it ever gets cold here. We are supposed to be the land of eternal sunshine, orange juice, surfboards and palm trees in parking lots.
Except at 4:00 a.m. in November... it's just plain cold.
And so it was on Black Friday that I did what I had never before done. I arose at 4:00 a.m., donned black yoga pants and my oversized hooded sweatshirt with the skull on the front (prophetic under the circumstances); threw my hair into a ponytail, pulled on my furry boots (decidedly unglamorous) and set off on my quest for that most special gift for my sweet angel; a gift that I believed would cause a vociferous declaration of continued undying love and devotion.
Arriving at the store and without exaggeration, I parked approximately one-quarter of a mile away from the entrance. Once inside, the scene that greeted me could not even be accurately described as "organized chaos", as not only was there no organization to be had, such a description would do insult to the concept of chaos.
Wooden pallets stood stacked to unsafe heights in the middle of overly crowded aisles; their treasures made inaccessible by shrink wrap. Crowds of scarily-determined shoppers surrounded the pallets, hands firmly placed upon boxes that would not be available for purchase for another two hours. Entire families urgently scurried about; parents with already-overflowing shopping carts accompanied by young children in pajamas with somewhat confused "Help Me" expressions on their tired faces. Groups of teenagers carrying energy drinks of varying sizes and goofy names, happily roamed throughout as if this mayhem was instead the social event of the season.
Not only was I unable to find the precious gold at the end of my personal rainbow, even if I had found it, I would not have had a prayer of getting near it without a GPS system and two really large bodyguards named Spike and Bulldozer.
Refusing to be easily discouraged and convinced that the entire population of the city in which I live was already in the one store, I trudged the quarter-mile back to my car (fulfilling the cardio portion of my day) and proceeded to yet another store; naively expecting sanity... and where an almost-identical scene to the former greeted me. I actually witnessed a woman arguing with an armed security guard over her asserted place in line. Now I was taught that, "They who wear the gun on their hip automatically wins"; yet there were people willing to argue with folks who were wearing (and presumably had permission to use) small artillery.
Freezing cold and losing what little patience I mistakenly thought I had brought with me, I began aimlessly driving around other local shopping centers in the bleak hope that I would find what had by now become the "Mission Impossible" of gifts. I was greeted by either the previously described scenes or by lines of people trailing around the outsides of stores; huddled in sleeping bags, blankets and ski jackets; holding cups of coffee that had certainly gone cold and anxiously awaiting the stores' opening. In those brain-fogged moments, I realized that despite my valiant efforts (which did admittedly fall short of challenging cranky people to duels), I was not going to return home with my precious gift. All of my wee-hour efforts had been for naught.
A gorgeous day was breaking over the beautiful mountain-scape by which I am so fortunate to live. I didn't care. My plans had gone completely awry. I was denied the gift; the one thing on which I had pinned all of my holiday gift-giving happiness. I was barely awake and driving around at what I consider to be an ungodly hour (unless you are just returning home after a night out, which is an era that I have left behind ... mostly).
And then I remembered...
My daughter Kendall long ago chose a career in fashion; a career that she has dreamed of since literally the age of seven. Her dream has taken her into upper management in the retail sector and while I couldn't be prouder of her and I know that she adores her career, this career also includes preparing for and subsequently working on Black Friday.
I knew that Kendall would arrive at her store at 6:30 a.m. in order to ready for opening at 7:00 a.m. I also knew that she too would be bleary-eyed from both pre-Black Friday preparations in her store and Thanksgiving Day activities at our house. However, unlike her mother, she would not have the luxury of climbing back into pajamas and into bed for a nap. On the contrary, she would likely be on her feet and serving the public with a smile on her face for the following twelve hours.
Quickly snapping out of a mood that would have done the Grinch proud, I hurriedly hunted down Kendall's favorite coffee house, ran inside and purchased a café latte approximating the size of Vermont and a slice of her very favorite lemon cake. I frenziedly drove to her store where there too, a throng of people who had clearly been sitting in the cold and the dark for hours also awaited her arrival and the store's opening.
I parked and waited.
When Kendall pulled into the parking lot at 6:30 a.m., I jumped out of my car and hid behind another parked car; praying that no one whose name began with the words "Deputy" or "Officer" saw a peculiar-looking, wild-eyed, ponytailed blonde skulking behind a parked car with a gigantic café latte and lemon cake, while simultaneously stalking a young, attractive woman.
Kendall emerged from her car with a determined look on her face and strode purposefully toward her store and that not-necessarily-friendly throng of people. I was immediately struck by her beauty at that hour of the morning -- hair softly coaxed and coiffed into flawless dark-chocolate-brown waves, gorgeous smoky-eyed make-up, bright red lipstick that popped against flawless porcelain skin and appearing as a vision of street-chic in a black mini-dress, a loosely wrapped red scarf that perfectly matched the lipstick, black tights and high heeled ankle boots.
I quickly fell into step alongside her and intentionally bumped into her.
Not immediately realizing who had gently collided into her at first, she started to politely say, "Excuse me, I'm sor...." and then once realizing who had bumped her, finished the sentence with an expletive; presumably because she hadn't seen her mother awake at that hour since Las Vegas, 2005.
I had roughly 30 seconds to give her the latte and the cake, kiss her on the cheek and wish her a good day. The smile that crossed her grateful face made the entire two and one-half hour fruitless odyssey preceding that moment fade into nothingness.
As I made my way home through the now sunlit and crowded streets of shoppers (at what I still consider to be a ridiculous hour of the day), I realized that as badly as I wanted to purchase that elusive gift - and went through Herculean efforts to do so -- putting a smile on the face of someone who needed a smile was not only more important... it felt just as good as if I had successfully found that gift.
In other words -- at the end of the cartoon, the Grinch got it right.
No holiday magic comes from a store, no matter what the gift is or the deal-busting, door-smashing, ceiling-caving price that comes with it. It really is about the little things. It's about putting a smile on the face of someone who badly needs to smile. It's about lifting a spirit that may be a little bit bruised. It's about something as simple as a café latte, a piece of lemon cake and a kiss on a young woman's cheek.
While there will be presents in our home this holiday season, I will also remember to concentrate on the little things that mean so much. I will take my family and loved ones for granted a little less and say "I love you" a little more. I will be immensely grateful for a roof over my head, food in my stomach, clothes on my back and warmth on cold November mornings. I will remind the people with whom I work just how much they mean to me.
And I will serve our community with a smile, a willing spirit and when we meet one another... perhaps a Vermont-sized latte as well.
Carole's latest book, "Happily Even After..." has won the prestigious Books for a Better Life Award. For more information about Carole Brody Fleet and Widows Wear Stilettos, please visit www.widowswearstilettos.com
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