To the point week of 11-27-08

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THANKSGIVING IS MY WIFE’S favorite holiday. She comes from a large extended family, and each year on Thanksgiving Day relatives come from all over the country to share the holiday.

There are dozens of people there, ranging from aunts and uncles to newborn babies. It’s also the day when major announcements are made – like there’s going to be a wedding or there’s going to be another newborn at Thanksgiving the following year.

My wife’s aunt hosts the entire event, and nearly every room in her house is covered with sleeping relatives on Thanksgiving night – but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

We have only missed one family Thanksgiving in more than 25 years – and that was 22 years ago.

Many times in this column I have written about my oldest daughter, Abby, who will be 22 years old tomorrow (Friday), and is now off in Lafayette living her life.

Abby’s birth is what caused us to miss Thanksgiving Day, 1986 – well, actually we didn’t miss it, we just weren’t where everyone else was.

We were in Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati; and my Thanksgiving dinner that year consisted of eight Mountain Dews and a cheeseburger.

Jacquita had ice chips and an epidural.

But it’s not that Thanksgiving that causes my memory to recall those days. It is, instead, an incident a couple of days later that makes me smile.

It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving and I was a first-time dad who was heading back to Cincinnati from Vevay to visit my new family.

As I drove down Interstate 71, I thought that I should stop off and buy a present for my little girl. I few months earlier I had seen a pink, plush Teddy Bear in Lazarus (now Macy’s), and I decided that I was going to stop off and pick up that bear on my way to Cincinnati.

Now, at this point in the story, many women who are fond of shopping have already jumped ahead in the story; but bear with me.

I don’t think about things like “Black Friday” and other early Christmas sales, mainly because I’m in the newspaper office on Friday – but that day I was still clueless until I walked into the store.

I found the bear easily enough, but when I went to pay for it, I found that there was only one open cash register, and the line stretched completely through the store. In fact, had the line not curled, I would have had to go outside into the mall area to stand in line, which would have made for an interesting story to tell mall security.

So there I was, standing in this eternal line, holding this pink Teddy Bear.

Suddenly I became aware that others in line were looking at me, clinging to my pink Teddy.

“Nice bear,” the man in front of me in line said.

“Thanks,” I responded. “I’m buying it for my new baby girl and taking it to the hospital.”

“You and your wife just had a baby, and you’re standing in this line to buy the kid a Teddy Bear?” the man said, sounding a bit confused.

“Yep,” I replied. “No other lines are open, so I guess we’ll all stand in this one.”

“Naw,” the guy said. “Watch this.”

And with that, the man – whom I didn’t know and have not seen since, begins to yell at the top of his lungs.

“Hey! This guy’s wife just had a baby, and he’s trying to buy this Teddy Bear for his little girl and get to the hospital. Everybody get out of the way and let him through!”

Now you can say all you want about how awful holiday shoppers can be, and you’re right most of the time; but on that Saturday in November of 1986, the strangest thing happened.

They moved.

Really – they all moved.

It was like watching Charlton Heston part the Red Sea as Moses. People just stepped back, forming a corridor for me to walk down. The line moved apart, and I walked between all of those shoppers, holding my pink Teddy Bear, straight to the counter.

As I walked past, people began to clap and congratulate me on my little girl. Had I had a Naval cap and Debra Winger, it would have looked like the final scene in “An Officer and a Gentleman”.

I went to the counter, paid for my bear, and walked back to my car. Before I went in the store that day, I was a pretty happy new dad.

When I left, I was overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness of “intimate strangers”. Those people didn’t have to move, and the guy didn’t have to yell. They could have simply stood there and decided that if they had to stand in that line, the big guy with the pink Teddy Bear would have to stand there, too.

It is a memory that is very special to me, because each year I see people yelling at each other while fighting over something that is truly insignificant in the grand scheme of life.

They take holidays that center on being thankful and being blessed and turn them into a death match at 4 a.m. over a $99 television set.

I have to tell you, I’m not much of a “shopper”, but I do have one truly wonderful shopping story.

I just shared it with you; so this weekend and in the days and weeks to come leading to Christmas, it’s my hope that we will all take the time to slow down and put things into perspective and see what a little act of human kindness – random or otherwise – can do.

Happy Thanksgiving.