“You go finish,” I told my best friend (the smart one who’d worn sneakers) as I eased into a miraculously vacated chair in the crowded food court. “I’ll be right here.” If nothing else, I could “people watch” to pass the time.
Then I saw him.
The solitary old man in a well-worn brown overcoat slumped in a nearby chair, and his bereft, almost vacant expression tugged at my heart. Was he a homeless man who had come in from the cold? the Christmas spirit asked within me. Did he have money to buy food? Should I go get him something to eat? But what if I chose the wrong thing? Should I slip him the ten dollars in my wallet, the last of my cash I’d budgeted for this shopping trip? That amount could purchase a hearty meal at any of these fast food places.
Before I could pull out the money, two noisy children and two smiling parents wended their way among the tables and surrounded the old man, all talking at once.
“Grandpa, look what I got.” The boy puffed out his chest to model a new sweatshirt emblazoned with an NFL logo, no doubt his favorite team.
“You can’t look in my bag, Grandpa,” said his lookalike sister. “It’s a secret.”
“Thank you so much, Dad.” The young mother bent down to hug the old man. “The kids really enjoyed picking out their own presents.”
“And we finally figured out what to get for you,” announced the young father with a jolly smirk. “You’ll never guess what it is, but you’re gonna love it.”
The old man straightened in his chair, and his face lit up—dare I say it?—like a Christmas tree. He laughed and teased his grandchildren, then gave them a few dollars to go buy their food. The joy of giving clearly had made his season bright.
Wearing the wrong shoes to go shopping wasn’t my biggest mistake on that Christmas shopping trip. It was my judging a book by its cover, or rather, a person by his clothing and countenance, which could have caused both the grandfather and me great embarrassment. Instead, I was treated to a lovely family tableau that truly embodied the season.
And I knew where my last bit of cash would go. Right into the red bucket outside the mall door where the Salvation Army volunteer patiently rang her bell. She would know of someone who truly needed it.
Louise M. Gouge
Check out my Web site to find out how you can win a copy of my newest release, A Suitable Wife.