Peace on earth, good will to men. What do we want? Peace on earth. When do we want it? Always. Never. I don’t exactly know. We are an unconscionable bunch of bickering earth dwellers. Christmas is a religious holiday and then again it’s not. We’ve made it into a spending holiday. We’ve fashioned Christmas into a day of delivery. We stake our claim on Christmas by buying stuff. I’m feeling quite Grinchy this year. Mostly because I’m not fond of buying stuff and wish I could just steal someone else’s. We say it’s about family and peace on earth. For some, the two are not exactly compatible. Mid December is my least favorite time of year. Select, buy, wrap, send. Write out the cards. Decide who will host the dinner. Who will host the dinner? Select, buy, wrap, stash until Christmas day. If we go, whose house will we stay in? If we stay, will we be hosting? Christmas should be renamed A Month-full of Annoying Decisions. There. I’ve said it.
Now that my whiney, little rant is out of the way, I feel some of the pressure lifting. You see, I had to go to the mall this past week at the very height of my holiday angst. It’s not a location at which I cherish spending time. I did everything I usually do to ease the tension of the season. I started in September, which dragged on into October and I managed to be earnestly procrastinating by November. Suddenly I found myself in December with little to show for all my industrious intentions. I cried a little while I was dithering about whether I would actually have to drive out to the Asheville Mall.
True to my usual m.o., I left the house well before the time the mall would open. I chose my driving path wisely, then was forced to get off at an earlier exit since I found myself in the wrong lane at a point where I was unable to switch over. The extra tour of the east side of town had the potential for freaking me out, but was in fact more soothing for having taken me off the freeway. I had the notion that I was at least traveling in the right direction and lo, there to my right appeared a structure of such magnitude that I easily identified it as the mall. There was a collection of cars already gathered in the parking lot, so I pulled into a space and joined the queue at the door in front of a large department store.
Once in the maze, I began my run. I was in search of one thing. The store I wanted was not open. I was perplexed as I stood in front of it staring at an iron gate. It felt much like a slap in the face, a thumb to the nose, a joke gone horribly wrong. I could see merchandise inside, so I knew they had not gone out of business. I edged up to the entrance and, spying a tiny sign near it, read that I would have to wait another hour before I was welcome inside. I tried a couple other stores, including the department store through which I had entered the mall.
It’s nice to learn new things at my age. The things learned aren’t always pleasant though, such as: big department stores no longer have employees. Maybe they save them for the weekend crowds. Perhaps if you stood in the store and screamed, one might appear to hush you up. I wasn’t in the mood for that level of fun, so I simply left and walked around the mall for almost an hour. I got lost a couple times. I found the guy with the mechanical bull and another guy with some kind of sky ride. There were at least four massage places where one could ease the aching feet after hours of walking around lost in the mall. I considered getting my hair cut as I cruised past a couple of salon-type enterprises, but I didn’t want to sit down again until I got into my car to drive home.
At last the store I had intended to visit opened and I waltzed in and started browsing. After a frustrating period of searching, I could not find what I wanted nor anyone who worked in the store to ask for assistance other than the already harried cashiers–one upstairs, one down. I could have done that screaming thing to attract attention, but I was certain other patrons would have backed away from me to shuffle off to a safer part of the establishment. I walked out in pitiful disappointment. I strolled around the mall again, trying to find the store where I had entered this indoor city. I passed the same stores a few times before I thought to find one of those “You are here” diagrams with the layout of the mall. I spied one in what looked like a major entrance and noticed the name of another department store where I might find what I needed.
I hadn’t considered this store, as it was not one where I usually did my desperation holiday shopping. There were employees in there. One asked if I needed help. I was a bit stunned by this lucky encounter. We found what I wanted and walked to a register. After handing over my credit card, I was presented my purchase in a bag with pretty white tissue paper. I asked the salesman to remove it from the bag so that I could stuff it into my back pack. He did without complaint, even nodding in a knowing way. I was pleased with the entire experience. Until I went to leave the store. I set off an alarm. I turned around and walked back into the store. I expected to be confronted by a store manager at the very least. I saw instead two sales ladies preparing for their day at a cosmetics counter. They waved me over.
“It’s your backpack,” one informed me. That brand frequently set off the alarm and I should, under their supervision, ignore it. I explained that I had just made a purchase. Perhaps that’s what set it off. They both shooed me out without another thought about it. I left. Once again I wandered about the mall until I found the department store through which I had entered. As I walked in, the alarm sounded. A couple shoppers nearby asked if I was stealing stuff into the store. I began to worry about leaving out into the parking lot. I approached the outer door and cringed as the alarm chirped loudly upon my exit. I turned around and came back into the store. I stood for a couple minutes, waiting for some undercover store security member to question me or search my bag, receipt for my purchase at a rival emporium at the ready. No one showed, so I once again went outside and sauntered to my car in the parking lot. I drove away thinking I must look like the most innocent shopper on record, though I am still waiting for the police to show up at my door. I’d better get baking if I want to sway them in my favor.
With a couple weeks more until the big day, I’m proud to say all the shipping has been completed and only a couple more things need to be purchased online. A menu has yet to be chosen, but I won’t have to drive across town to find the things I need to cook. We put an artificial tree up out on our porch, since we don’t have enough room inside the Hobbit House to accommodate any full-sized, fully-decked holiday horticulture. The stockings are hung, the holly is strung. I’m smiling just thinking about hearing from loved ones and crinkling some wrapping paper on Christmas morning. No more hustle nor bustle required. I think I will fire up my hot pack and sip a hot toddy while I watch some cliché of a Christmas movie. With this level of accomplishment, I feel the tension ebbing and the peace returning… to me at least. I’ll pray for peace on earth and will hold tight to the possibility for such a thing.
Tis the season,