Angel in Rags (Guest Author Christmas Story)

A dear friend of mine sent me a wonderful Christmas story. With his permission, I am sharing it with you. I hope you enjoy!!! 💖😍🎅🎄🎁


Angel in Rags by Steve Channing

The late afternoon December sky was already dark and a light, powdery snow had begun when they entered the store. I took little notice of them at first; the mother being only slightly taller than her eldest girl, who herself could not have been much more than ten. And the other two daughters, maybe six and seven were tinier yet. With her short, brown, hastily combed hair and in her worn, black cloth coat, the mother seemed tense and rushed, as if the stress of the season had overpowered her too, and the three girls, frail and pale, dressed in matching navy parkas with frayed sleeves…and blue jeans with cheap runners… followed silently and patiently. The four of them could have fit well in any setting in this poor side of town.

It was 5:45, and from the looks of it, I was going to make it through the day, which was a comforting thought, since a few hours earlier, I found myself harboring some serious doubts about it in the Christmas rush. I was making my usual closing check of the store, taking a mental note of how many customers were left and guestimating if we could have them all out by closing time at 6pm, when I happened upon the family in the Produce aisle.

This aisle is probably similar to the one you shop in at your own neighborhood store; on one side along the wall are the fresh vegetables such as lettuce, celery, salad packs, tomatoes, etc. and in front of them are the tables of fresh fruits, brimming with bright yellow bananas, apples of all descriptions, grapefruit and cantaloupe and oranges…piles and piles of boxed Mandarin oranges. Directly across from these tables lie the bulk foods. This area, resplendant with every goodie that one can imagine, from mini chocolate bars to gummi worms, b-b-q peanuts to scotch mints, pretzels, pistachios and more. And at the end of the candies lie the bulk cookie bins with every kind of chocolate delight known to man – chocolate macaroons ( not really my favorite but they sell good), chocolate puffs and chocolate fingers…chocolate, chocolate, chocolate – kinda makes your mouth water, no?

In short, the whole aisle is one temptation after another and invariably too much for most to resist snacking from, or “grazing” as we call it. The area is a real pain in the butt for us workers who have to stop people from helping themselves who invariably always act like it’s somehow their right to steal from us without paying.

So it was that what caught my eye initially when I rounded the corner was to behold the three sisters, staring wide-eyed and the candies before them and yet each with their hands dutifully behind their backs, as though shackled by their mother’s unspoken command.

***

Earlier that afternoon, in the madhouse that Christmas Eve in a supermarket usually is, I was told by one of my customers that this boy was helping himself to some chocolate bars and was standing at the checkout with his mother, with obviously no intention of paying. Now, there are two ways of handling this situation. First, if you trust the customer who told you what happened, you walk up to the kid, confront him in front of his mother and let her handle the situation by publicly embarrassing the child to hide her own embarrassment. Or, if you are unsure of your source, or have any misgivings, you try to get the kid alone… away from his mother. This allows you the freedom to confront him without fear of being proven wrong and being attacked by his mother… It also gives you time to disappear into the back room if you are wrong before he knows what has happened and tries to make a scene.

In that case, with Terry, I chose option #2. I knew Terry to be a snot-nosed little bugger – he played baseball with my son and always had an attitude. I didn’t especially care for his feelings, but what the Hell – it was Christmas Eve, so I waited and sure enough, like any other normal 10-12 year old who has nothing to do but watch his mom load groceries, he wandered off down the front aisle. Before he knew what was happening, I maneuvered myself directly in front of him, partially blocking his escape with a row of shopping carts and blocking his view of his mother at the same time.

“Terry…did you put some chocolate bars in your coat?” I asked in my sternest voice.

Now, usually, most kids his age will, when caught, come clean, confess, return the product and plead with me not to tell their mothers. Most Kids! However, when I put this little cretin on the spot, he threw back his shoulders in defiance and replied: “Maybe I did and maybe I didn’t!”! And grinned!!!

Christmas or not, the only thing that saved Terry’s ass from being drop-kicked into the next aisle was the sudden image of my own son standing there and somebody mistreating him. Streetwise, Terry recognized my momentary struggle with this, skirted around me and back over to his mother’s side, grinning from ear to ear!

Part of me screamed “Go Get Him” but my self-control won out and the saner part of me replied, “Aw, who needs this shit on Christmas Eve?” “You’ll get yours,” I vowed, putting him on my mental hit-list of little creeps I plan to harass the next time their mothers send them to the store alone. We have our ways!

***

As I walked off, the whole episode left me with a bad taste in my mouth…and so it was that when I came upon the three sisters poised silently side by side, shoulders touching, quietly commenting thru nods and whispers and giggles about which they liked the best, and every now and then a hand would shoot out to point at a newfound treasure, but just as quickly disappear, I was in the right mood to ruin somebody’s else’s day by making an example of one of them in front of their mother, who would be upset, because, after all, it is stealing.

I waited, crouched behind the Tide display at the front end of the aisle, unnoticed by the mother who was grappling with a produce bag that refused to open and by the girls; any one or all of whom were my intended targets…I mean victims.

However, as I watched and waited, it soon became evident that there was something different about these three. They just stood there …looking! You could almost hear their mouths watering and yet, nothing!! It was as if there was an invisible glass wall separating them from their desires. There wasn’t even that guilty “left-and-right glance” to see if anyone was watching…which all thieves do and think we don’t notice.

Nothing!!

Fascinated, I entered the aisle and moved along the freezer on the end of the bulk foods until I came to a stop directly opposite them. All three looked up and smiled in unison. The eldest, her big, root beer eyes twinkling behind a crop of loose, untrimmed brown bangs said “Hi”; the middle one, in close-cropped curls, smiled to reveal a missing front tooth and the youngest, her hair hidden under the hood of her hand-me-down parka, turned slightly away with her head slightly tilted downwards, her finger in her mouth and her eyes never leaving mine. Their mother drew near.

Innocence. How quickly and profoundly we are affected by the sweet, innocent smile of a child! Instantly, those six beautiful eyes washed away my previous intentions like hot breath vanishing from a cold window. I glanced over at their mother, noticed the absence of a wedding ring and took it to mean that these little ragamuffins would be having the same type of have-not Christmas that my own children were facing…and like the Grinch in Whoville, my heart instantly grew three times its size.

“Hi,” I smiled. “They look pretty good, don’t they?”

Three wide-eyed nods.

I leaned forward over the bulk bins and said, just loud enough for their mother to hear, “You know, since the three of you are being so good for your mum, you can each have two candies of your choice…if your mum agrees.”

The youngest jumped and shrieked with delight and the eldest turned to her mother who nodded her approval. The three turned back and sang out “Thank you, sir.”

Big deal. Six lousy candies. If they didn’t take them, someone else would have. Probably one of the staff – perhaps even me.

***

I returned to my work.

Six o’clock. While we were normally open until 10pm, the store always closed at 6pm. on Christmas Eve. It’s a busy time for me – a time of locking the front in doors, watching for anyone acting suspicious and stopping the last-minute shoppers from coming in the exits. For once, it looked as if we would be out of there by 7pm – right on time.

I was pacing back and forth in front of the checkouts, the keys in a vice-like grip in my sweaty palm, mentally going over the jobs I had assigned to the clean up crew and trying to remember who could be trusted to do the work and who I had to follow up on and cynically wondering if I would make it home in time to feed my kids and get them to church on time and hearing again, the doctors tell me that mother might not be well enough to go home until Spring…when I was stopped by a vaguely familiar voice calling to me from one of the checkouts.

I spun around, tense and somewhat irritated at whoever was interrupting my trains of thought, and came face to face once again with those same three sisters – standing side by side as if ready for inspection – each looking like a different version of each other. The eldest took a shy step forward and said with a solemn look “Thank you again, sir, for the candies.”

All at once, my world stopped …the whirling and spinning slowed right down and all the tension that had been building into what promised to be a dandy migraine…all disappeared. And as I gazed into those huge, hazel eyes, for a brief moment, I loved her as my own. I walked over, smiled and placed my arms on her wraith-like shoulders and said: “You’re welcome, sweetheart.” And with a lump in my throat the size of an orange, I added: “I hope Santa is good to you.”

The next thing I know, a wonderful moment happened; so brief and yet so precious that it will live in my memories of Christmas treasures for years to come.

This girl, this angel in rags, her eyes brimming with tears as if those treats might very well have been the only presents she had to look forward to…jumped up, threw her arms around my neck, kissed my cheek and said: “ I hope he’s good to you too.”

***

Six Gummi Worms…

They weren’t even mine to give and yet somehow they meant the world to these three children of God…and as I watched and waived as they disappeared into their snow-covered station wagon, I silently said a prayer for their safe journey home. I suddenly became overwhelmed once more with the fullness of the season, which reminded me that Christmas should be a time of love, hope and goodwill to all people, and that the only true joy in life is achieved through giving. Indeed, it’s up to us as adults to do our very best to create that special magic at this time of the year for the little ones, so they may have golden memories to share with their kids when a similar time comes for them.

Later that night, under a blanket of stars, while my children and I walked to church for the midnight Christmas Eve service, it occurred to me that perhaps I should do a little more giving – I decided to give Terry one more chance.

Just one.


If you enjoyed the story, please leave a comment below. I’m trying to encourage Steve to write and share more often! 😁

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