The young woman furrowed her brow and rubbed her eyes. Her fingers then straightened her long black hair. Everything in the store she had looked at that was any good cost just a little too much, and everything that was within her price range just wasn’t quite good enough.
She needed a perfect Christmas gift for the perfect guy — a blue-eyed, babyfaced guy who had always been sweet to her — and she became more and more frustrated as she roamed through aisle after aisle. She had looked at sweaters, watches, jackets, gloves, gadgets and colognes — and just about everything she liked cost more than she could ever afford on her wage as a waitress at a small cafe. She didn’t know whether to cry or scream. If he didn’t like his Christmas gift, she thought, maybe he wouldn’t like her anymore.
A white-haired older woman watched her and knew immediately that the young lady had to be searching for a present for a very important boyfriend. As the two came closer to one another in the cologne aisle, she cleared her throat and spoke cheerfully.
“Merry Christmas, dearie,” the older woman said.
The young woman looked at her. The older woman’s eyes sparkled through her spectacles, and she wore a navy-colored sweatshirt with a red-nosed reindeer pictured on the front — a gift from grandkids the previous Christmas.
Something about the way the strange old woman had said it soothed the younger woman. Maybe it was the silliness of the word “dearie,” or maybe it was just the musical tone in her voice.
The young woman smiled. “Merry Christmas to you, too,” she replied.
“Oh, dearie.” (There was that word again.) “You don’t have a thing to worry about. With a smile as pretty as that, your man will love you no matter what you give him. He won’t let you get away.”
The polite, pretty smile quickly became a sincere and beautiful one — the kind of smile that belongs on the cover of a magazine or in a feature film. The young woman simply beamed. “Thank you,” she managed to mutter in reply.
Finding the right gift was easy after that, and as she merrily waited in the checkout line she bumped shoulders with a middle-aged man. A tired fellow with a receding hairline and a growing belly, he didn’t care much for Christmas shopping and cared even less for crowded checkout lines. His patience was limited and he was beginning to dread the anticipated hassle of another Christmas Day — and the outrageous bills that were soon to follow.
“Excuse me,” he mumbled to her after they had bumped.
“No problem,” she said. Then she gave him that sincere smile. “Happy holidays.”
It had been a long time since a pretty young woman had smiled at him like that. His beaten posture changed as his heart lifted in his chest — his upper body seemed to inflate and his face softened significantly. He held his head high and smiled back at her — as he would smile at the whole world for the rest of the evening.
“Happy holidays to you, too,” he cheerfully exclaimed to her moments later as he exited the store, bags of gifts in tow. He seemed to be walking on air.
His attitude had changed so drastically that he happily left a much-larger-than-usual amount of money in the charity bucket next to the Salvation Army Santa ringing the bell outside. Then, as he drove out of the parking lot, he came across a motorist with a flat tire. Normally he would have driven right by, but today he pulled over to help.
As he put the spare tire on for the nice, white-haired woman, he chatted away — and even complimented her on her “Rudolph sweatshirt.” He laughed as she told him stories about her grandkids. He told her he couldn’t wait to have grandkids of his own, and he was surprised to hear himself saying that — and meaning it.
He then followed her to the repair shop — the only one in town still open on Christmas Eve — and insisted on paying to have the tire repaired.
“It’s not much,” he told the woman. “Consider it a Christmas gift. Just promise to spend the money I’ll save you on your wonderful grandkids.”
She promised. He waved good-bye, shouted “Merry Christmas” and hurried home. For the first time in a long time, he couldn’t wait to see his wife — and to give her a kiss.
The repair shop owner witnessed the man’s generosity, and was so impressed that he decided to spread a little generosity of his own. He gave his only employee the rest of the day off, with full pay and a holiday bonus. It was just a small bonus — after all, business had been slow — but it was more than what the young man had expected, which was nothing.
The blue-eyed mechanic was so thrilled he actually gave his boss a hug as he wished him “Happy Holidays” and skipped out the door. Although the moment was awkward, it somehow seemed appropriate, and the repair shop owner was pleasantly amazed at how easily he could positively impact the attitude of an employee.
Now the baby-faced young man would have just enough time to get to the jewelry store before it closed, and just enough money to pay off the engagement ring on which he had been making payments for the last few months.
It was a Christmas present for his girlfriend, a thoughtful young woman with long, black hair. He was going to ask for her hand in marriage tonight, on Christmas Eve. He’d always been sweet to her, and she seemed to care about him an awful lot. He hoped and prayed that she would say yes.
When your girl has a smile as pretty as that, you don’t let her get away.
Note: This Christmas story by James Grob first appeared in the Ottumwa Courier in December of 2007. Sports editor James Grob can be contacted at email@example.com.