It had been a long, busy day at work. Not a bad day. Just one of those days when getting those 10,000 steps on the old Fitbit was child’s play.
I was sink-into-the-couch-in-a-trance tired. All I wanted was to get home, get the dogs fed while Jim took care of the barn, get my feet into my Ugg house shoes (they are magically soothing), and enjoy a little quiet time.
Oh wait. The humans should eat too.
That whole food for the humans thing meant my plans for a fast-track to the welcoming cushions of our couch had to take a little detour. Actually, a not-so-little detour to Walmart. But I had a list and I would stay focused, keep my head down, navigate the crowds with my mad cart handling skills, and be out of there in a flash.
After all, I had a date with a couch and the backside of my eyelids.
As I was speeding through the aisles, slaloming through the the other shoppers at what had to be a gold medal pace, I caught sight of something out of the corner of my eye that stopped me in my tracks.
It was a bin full of Christmas teddy bears strategically placed like a mogul on a downhill course. Ah, the marketing genius of Walmart. Doritos, toilet paper, and teddy bears. All on sale, all on display in the center aisle.
Those Christmas teddy bears almost proved to be the kryptonite to my shopping mission. I was mesmerized, reaching out to run my fingers through the soft fuzz of a big white bear wearing a Santa hat and a bright red sweater.
My mom had a huge soft spot for teddy bears. She had quite a collection. Little tiny bears on display wearing elaborate handmade costumes and hats. Colorful big bears with shiny button eyes and big squishy bodies perfect for grandkids to hug. And holiday bears. Mom specifically loved Christmas bears.
Each year, as Christmas would draw near, a new bear would show up on display in my parents’ house. Some had the year embroidered on a festive hat or sweater, some were little girl bears, some were little boy bears. All looked bright and happy to be joining Mom’s collection.
Dad would shake his head and wonder why Mom needed all of those bears. Mom would just smile and give each bear a little pat. “Oh Papa,” she’d say using the nickname the grandkids gave him, “no bear should be left behind at Christmas.”
There didn’t really need to be a good reason for that fluffy bear collection, did there? There was reason enough seeing everyone who came to the house, old and young alike, hugging a bear or two while grinning like a five-year-old.
“Customer assistance in electronics, customer needs assistance in electronics.”
The tinny page blared through the speakers, shaking my mind from a time more than a decade ago to the present. One hand still on my cart, one hand on the big, white bear, I smiled at the memory, but then snapped back to the task at hand. Food for the humans – get home to Jim, the dogs, the magic house shoes, and the couch.
Bears were a thing of the past. A happy memory to cherish from the past. Now, GO!
I resumed my well-planned trek through the store, zipping to my last stop for milk before the sprint to find the shortest checkout line.
Just as I was pulling my cart into the most promising queue, I saw Barbara. Ah, Barbara. My favorite Walmart employee of all time.
Barbara is something special. I don’t know her personally, but it’s easy to see she has joy buried deep in her soul and it just can’t help but bubble to the surface on a regular basis. She is the Walmart Old Faithful of joy.
I got to know Barbara a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. She was my cashier and I couldn’t help but admire her fancy, fall-themed, self-crafted headband. She had autumn leaves and flowers sprouting all over the crown of her head. It was not subtle…and perhaps not Paris-runway fashionable…but it was 100% awesome.
“Oh just you wait,” she said with a grin. “It will grow. I add something to it every day until Thanksgiving Day.” Here eyes were sparkling with the obvious fun of it all.
“Then, the day after Thanksgiving, I start all over again for Christmas. You should watch for me.”
I promised her I would, and I did. True to her word, the day after Thanksgiving I saw her again and she had one little sprig of holly fastened to an otherwise bare headband.
Now, a few weeks into the Christmas season, Barbara’s headband was starting to really take shape again. And, as people smiled and commented on her decoration, she was beaming. It was one heck of a powerful beam.
Suddenly, I wasn’t really so tired any more. And my mission for home, house shoes, and couch seemed a little less urgent. And the holiday-infused craziness of the crowded store didn’t seem quite so daunting.
Barbara was working the checkout at Walmart during one of the busiest, easy-to-lose-focus-on-the-spirit times of the year. She could have chosen to be grumpy, or harried, or stressed. She could have chosen to just put her head down, scan and bag items, and push from one customer to the next.
But she didn’t. She chose joy. Barbara unfailingly chose to greet each customer with a huge smile and a giant dose of joy.
Without a second thought, I surrendered my prime spot in the line and wheeled back to the bin of holiday bears, just past the Doritos display near aisle five. The big white bear was laying there on his back, his black eyes blank and fixed on the ceiling, his arms and legs flung out as if in surrender to his plight.
No bear likes to be left behind at Christmas, right?
I picked the big bear up and gave him a good test hug – a lesson also taught by Mom, bears had to have a good squishy hug factor – and placed him in my cart in the seat where a small child would perch. Then I took him for a ride through the store, to check out the other Christmas decorations. Maybe I wasn’t in such a hurry after all.
And maybe we had a little joy of our own to spread around as people did double takes at the costumed child, oh-hey-it’s-a-bear, riding happily in my cart. There were plenty of smiles in our wake.
Finally, with a few extra bright and shiny items added to my cart of essentials, I made my way back to the checkout line. Barbara’s checkout line.
It wasn’t the shortest line. I didn’t care. I wanted more joy to bubble my way. Barbara, with greenery, poinsettias, and other foliage sprouting from her hair, nodded approvingly at my prized Christmas bear as her face crinkled into the most wonderful grin.
I admired her headband, she assured me it would get better. I told her I knew it would and that I would be following her progress. She laughed in delight, even blushing a bit, as I asked to snap a quick photo of her. Then we both turned back to our duties. Mine to get home. Hers to check out customers and spread her special brand of joy – and I may have that in the wrong order.
I placed my new bear in the passenger seat, seat belt fastened snugly around his plush belly. As I pointed the car toward home, I chatted with my new friend, just as Mom did with her bears so many years before.
Isn’t it funny, I mused, how the Christmas spirit can find you in places, and in moments, when you least expect it? It’s just a matter of recognizing it and choosing to accept it. Mr. Bear’s eyes shone in agreement.
Every year there seems to be a great debate about whether Christmas has been trampled by a stampede of impossible, commercialized hustle and bustle, or if there is still true joy and personal meaning to be found in the season. I think this year Barbara is teaching me that it’s all about making a choice.
And I choose joy…and teddy bears.
I can’t wait to make a trip back to Walmart on Christmas Eve to see Barbara’s headpiece. It’s going to be spectacular.