My Cardboard Box

Christmas 2011:The Mistletoe Seller

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Yes, it’s a re-post of sorts. But it’s rather interesting that unique things happen to me at Christmas,  for two years in a row:

She was standing to the right of the side entrance of Walmart. Just close enough to catch shoppers going in, but not close enough to draw the attention of management and the Sheriff’s Citizen Patrol that were cruising the lot. It might have been a good location earlier, but the winter sun had set and there wasn’t much light coming from the halogen lamps. Or maybe she’d picked that spot on purpose.  Faded jeans, whitish sneakers and a dark  down-jacket that had seen better days.

“Would you like to buy some mistletoe?” she called out as I stepped onto the sidewalk.

‘No thanks,” I replied as I headed for the sliding door and the fluorescent interior. It would be just an in-and-out mission, if the crowd permitted. It was busy in spite of the lousy economy. Or maybe, my fatigued brain finally figured, because of it.  Finding the present was easy. A gift card for an aged relative who “didn’t want anything for Christmas”, but would be quite unhappy if her request was actually filled. Yes, a gift card isn’t sentimental. But sentimentality had long been passed over for practicality – on both sides.

I shuffled along with the tweakers and the badly-tattooed welfare cases as they juggled their carts and their too-many kids toward the register. The worst part was that the wait gave me time to think unhappy thoughts.  I’d volunteered to stay at work through Christmas Eve, so everyone else could take vacation. Somebody had to mind the shop and I volunteered to be the somebody.  I’ve long cursed myself for being a soft touch. I’m the shipmate you’d hit up for fifty bucks the day before you were discharged, the mark who’d stand duty for you on Christmas Eve gratis, the one who actually talks to the missionaries at the front door, the guy who gives five bucks  in a Denny’s parking lot to a woman with way too many visits to the glass pipe and gets a cheap ring and a ‘bless you’ in return.

But what really bothered me was that I would still wish the borrower who we both knew I’d never see again ‘good luck’.  I would still enjoy looking at the stars and the Christmas lights out in the little town across the Sound while standing the midnight watch out in the cold. I’d enjoy talking to the earnest young men in their white shirts and ties and black name tags, hearing their life stories. I’d even kept that damned cheap ring in my ‘treasure box’,  along with the medals and ribbons I would never wear again, the keys to cars long-junked, and the yellowed, twenty-plus year old envelope with the photo of The Girl inside.

Then it was my turn to exchange cash for the gift card. I swapped empty pleasantries with the cashier with her orange-dyed butch-cut and tribal tattoos on her arms.  I took my change and bag, did the “Merry Christmas” routine, then headed out the main entrance and into the cold for a roundabout trip to the car. No soft-touch this time, I said to myself.

Except that I turned right instead of straight.

She was still there, except she’d moved closer to one of the lights. She wasn’t young, but she wasn’t methamphetamine-aged either.  Dark eyes, dark hair framing a slim face that was on the edge of pretty, with a mouth that looked like it could smile easily, or used to.

She gave me That Look – the one women seem to have been giving me ever since I started shaving.

“I changed my mind,” I said quickly. “How much?”

“Five dollars each.”

I fumbled with my wallet, pulled out the money and handed it over. She reached into a wrinkled plastic shopping bag and gave me a cellophane packet.

“Thank you and Merry Christmas,” she said. I wished her the same, tucked it into my jacket, walked to the Volvo and started it up.  But before I put it in gear, I sighed and pulled out the packet.  It was indeed a sprig of mistletoe, tied with a silver ribbon and a long silver string. I pulled it out and held it up to the light.  There were still tiny droplets of water on the leaves.

I don’t know how long I sat there with it in my hand. Then I tied it to the rear view mirror and drove home.

There would still be coffee in the pot on the stove and a half-bottle of brandy in the pantry.  A few minutes outside on the deck with both, and the stars and the  Christmas lights in the town below for company sounded good to me. Maybe a quick trip to the treasure-box and a look at the photo of The Girl, just for comparison before the recent memory faded.   Perhaps, sometimes it paid to be a soft touch.


Written by PappyBro

January 8, 2013 at 21:42

One Response

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  1. Beautifully written, Pappy, and beautifully true. Cast your bread upon the waters, and all though, though mostly it comes back in such moments rather than monetary riches — but we don’t really want monetary riches anyway.

    trailing wife

    January 11, 2013 at 08:32

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