Saturday evening, and almost 6 pm. I dread it - can't stand the idea - but know I must do it because a dead battery had delayed it earlier in the day. My mission: to get into and out of Wal-Mart as quickly as possible, with some fuzzy socks for a stocking stuffer and my fragile Christmas spirit intact.
I was not optimistic. I was fairly certain I would find the stocking stuffer, but the Christmas spirit, a fragile flame for me this year, was in serious danger of being snuffed out by facing crowds and surly tempers as the days grew closer to Christmas.
But I forged on, and drove to Wal-Mart, feeling trepidation in my heart.
I was surprised to arrive and quickly find a parking spot, and even relatively close to the main entrance, a happy circumstance in such cold temperatures. I walked inside and found it busy, but just regular busy and not "super chaos prior to Christmas countdown" busy. I went in search of the fuzzy socks and while those proved elusive I found several other small items, and faced my next nemesis - the till. But even there I was finished rapidly, purchases stuffed into my bag.
And as I left the greeter wished me a Merry Christmas, a nice touch to a so-far pleasant experience.
I was quite stunned to breeze through so easily, and since it had been so entirely pleasant I headed next to Staples, where I found several more small things I had been looking for. Another quick trip through the till with a lovely cashier imbued with holiday spirit and on I went over to the mall, pumped up by my incredibly trouble-free shopping experience.
Quickly I whipped through three stores in the mall, finding fuzzy socks and other small items to fill a certain stocking. I was leaving one store when I heard a voice, tinged with that lovely Newfoundland lilt. It was coming from an older lady, it seemed, and it said, "I knows you!".
I stopped, suddenly filled with a bit of dread. Which story had she read that she objected to, I wondered. Which post or column had angered her, I pondered. And then she said, "You write the stories! Now, my man loves your stories, you know."
She drew close to me, close enough that I could now see her face held only a smile and no ill intent.
"You know, my man, he doesn't cry. Well, he cried once when his nan died, but he never cries. But you wrote a story that made him cry once and ever since he reads your stories, and now I reads them too," she said. "I recognize you from when you were on TV months ago."
And then she said the words that melted my heart.
"Thank you," she said. "And God bless you and your little girl, and you have a merry Christmas now!" - and then, out of the blue, this total stranger hugged me and disappeared into the crowd. I hadn't really said a word, unable to respond quickly enough to her sudden onslaught of kindness and cheer.
I stood there in the mall, my hands filled with shopping bags, and with tears in my eyes. That elusive spirit, the fragile flame that has been burning in my heart for days, was suddenly given new fuel, and burned brighter and stronger than ever.
I never thought that what I do here in this blog would ever impact anyone, you see. I never believed it would have any relevance in any life other than my own, and I am always humbled when someone says they have been touched by what I do. But in the end the life most impacted, and most touched, has been my own, because this blog has brought people into my life who fuel and strengthen the fragile flame of my spirit, and who remind me that there are so very many good people in this community.
I wandered out to my car, in a bit of a daze. And then I drove home, my eyes misty with tears and gratitude to a total stranger who helped me find my Christmas spirit, and renewed my belief in what I do, and why, and all those who live in this place we call home. To her, and her man, I say Merry Christmas - and thank you, to them both and to all of you, not just for taking the time to read this blog but for taking the time to give to this community and to each other. Thank you for making this the easiest place in the world to write about, and the place where I always, always, find my Christmas spirit - because it so very abundant here, in this little place surrounded by the boreal forest and under the dancing northern lights.
From the ferrets,
the dog, the cat,
the Intrepid Junior Blogger, and I -
Merry Christmas, Fort McMurray!
This was my mom's favourite Christmas song -
and now it is one of mine, too!