Shopping for Christmas
It was an overcast Saturday in mid-December. The sky was slate gray and a stiff breeze blew out of the Northwest.
Barry climbed into the front seat of his mom’s van. “Mom, how come you never took me Christmas shopping before?” Barry asked.
“Before, you used to be too young.”
“But now because I’m seven, I can help you?”
“Well, I hope so.”
“I love Christmas.”
“That’s nice, Honey.”
Before driving out to the mall, Sheila headed downtown to check out the local stores. The central shopping area encircled a parking lot as big as three football fields that was filled with cars lined up in endless rows like mothballed bombers.
“Wow!,” Barry exclaimed.
“This is what I was afraid of,” his mother muttered.
“Where can we park, Mom?”
“I’m not sure, Honey. You keep looking for a space, okay.” Suddenly, at the outskirts of the lot, someone’s backup lights winked on. Sheila swung in that direction. She could make a right turn into the spot if she could just get there in time. Waiting with her turn signal blinking, Sheila rolled down her window to wave thanks to the driver who was leaving. That was all the delay needed for a beige Mercedes to turn left into the vacant parking space.
“Mom, she stole our space!”
“I know that, Barry, I know.”
“Isn’t that Mrs. Casperson, Mom?”
“It looks like her, Honey, but I don’t think a school principal would steal someone’s parking space.”
Sheila managed to tuck the van next to a dumpster at one end of the lot.
“Come on, Barry. Stay close to me.”
“Hey, Mom, there’s Mrs. Davis.”
They weaved between the parked vehicles toward the gift shop. “How come you didn’t say, Hi, Mom? That was Mrs. Davis.” “Everyone’s in a hurry, Barry.”
Inside the gift shop, sounds were muted. It was as if normal talking would shatter the crystal and china artifacts that lined the shelves. At the card rack, as Barry reached for a Snoopy card, a store clerk with her dark hair in a bun shot her fingers across the top of it so he couldn’t lift it out. “We don’t allow children to handle the cards,” she said.
When the woman was distracted by another customer, Barry wandered off. He discovered a miniature ceramic home surrounded by “Do Not Touch” signs. Just as Sheila selected her last card, she heard the store lady’s frantic voice calling, “Little boy! Little boy!” Barry was kneeling in the aisle over the ceramic country home trying to fit a spun glass Santa Claus into its chimney. The woman fluttered around him ` afraid to do anything decisive.
“Barry, be careful. That stuff can break!” Sheila said, firmly wrenching the Santa from his fingers.
On the sidewalk outside, carolers from the high school choir were finishing “We wish you a merry Christmas….” From the first row, a gloved hand reached out and tapped Barry on the arm. It belonged to Christie Brinker, Barry’s babysitter.
“Hi,” she said, smiling and waving at him.”
“Mom, it’s Christie. Mom, look!”
Sheila couldn’t really pick Christie out of the group, but waved her hand in that general direction and called, “Hi, Christie.”
Barry shuffled his feet to keep pace with his mother.
“Mom? Are we gonna get Christie a present?”
“I hadn’t thought about it, Barry. Maybe. We’ll see.”
Sheila led him into the pharmacy where she had seen an electric shaver for her dad.
“Now, Barry, please don’t touch anything. We can look at the toys on our way out, okay?”
“Okay, Mom,” Barry said. Sheila located the only remaining shaver and took it to a girl in a red Santa hat behind the register.
“Do you mind if I open it?” Sheila asked.
The girl looked nervous. “Uh, I don’t know. It’s supposed to be just like the picture,” she said.
“I know. I just want to be sure it’s in good condition. It’s a gift for my dad.”
The carton lid had interlocking tabs, and it took dexterity to pry it open. Sheila became aware of heavy breathing behind her. Then an arm reached over her shoulder. A hand extended a bag of Christmas candy and a five dollar bill toward the salesclerk who took it and rang it up. The styrofoam packing squealed as Sheila slid the shaver out of the carton.
“Why does it make that noise, Mom?” Barry asked.
“Because of friction, I guess. It doesn’t want to slide against the cardboard,” Sheila explained.
Abruptly, a man’s voice said, “Could we dispense with the physics lesson? There are some of us back here in a hurry.”
Sheila turned to see four shoppers lined up behind her. Except for the man who was about to lose his patience, they stared straight ahead, expressionless. Then one woman caught Barry’s eye.
“Hi, Barry!” she said smiling.
“Oh, Mrs. Moore,” Sheila said. It was Barry’s former kindergarten teacher. “I’m sorry. I didn’t recognize you?”
Sheila put the shaver back into the styrofoam and slid it noiselessly into the carton. “This will be fine,” she said to the girl,”I’ll take it.”
The girl put the shaver in a bag, and Sheila headed for the door.
“Aren’t we gonna look at the toys, Mom?” Barry asked.
“Barry, I told you, we’re not buying toys on this trip.”
“But you promised we could just look.”
Sheila felt the eyes of Mrs. Moore scrutinizing her. Barry was already halfway down the toy aisle.
“Okay, but just for a minute,” Sheila said. Barry had a mock automobile dashboard on the floor in the middle of the aisle. “I hope Santa brings me one of these. Look, Mom, you can pretend you’re really driving.” A cylinder with a road painted on it rotated inside the plastic housing. Barry swerved from side to side clipping parked cars, and peaceful-looking farm animals.
“It even has a horn, Mom. Listen,” and he depressed a button, emitting several high-pitched squawks. All heads in the store turned toward them. “Barry, turn it off. It’s making too much noise.”
“How much does it cost, Mom?” Barry asked as he plopped the toy back on the shelf.
“Joey Jackson said he’s getting Nintendo 3ds for Christmas. How much money does Santa have for toys, anyway, Mom?”
Sheila clenched her teeth as she grabbed Barry’s hand and marched him straight out to the van.
“Climb in,” she commanded, and Barry hauled himself up to the front seat.
“Are you mad, Mom? I only wanted to know about Santa Claus.” “No, I’m not mad, Barry. Not at you, anyway.” Sheila remained silent as she drove three blocks and swung into a different, nearly empty parking lot.
“Come on,” she said to her son, and together they entered through the broad front doors of Prince of Peace Church.
Inside was warm and silent except for their footsteps on the marble floor. At the end of the center aisle, before the altar, brightly lighted from above and surrounded by red poinsettias, sat a hand-carved wooden crèche.
Barry whispered, “Are we through shopping, Mom?”
“We are for now, Barry. There’s something I want to explain to you.”