It was the week after Thanksgiving and the festivity of Christmas was all around. Jan had a little more bounce in her step than usual as she walked into the supermarket to buy a few groceries. After over two years of unemployment she had finally found a job. She would start on Monday.
Jan had been laid off at Reamers, a factory job that she had held for nine years. Looking for work was depressing. The last few months had been especially difficult as she was forced to get into her retirement savings to survive.
Down the first aisle of the supermarket she saw, Ted, one of her former co-workers. Jan and Ted had been laid off from Reamers at the same time. Unfortunately for Ted, he was still unemployed.
The two weren’t close friends but the commonality of long employment gave them some things to catch up on. Ted and his family had been getting by on his wife’s earnings but it hadn’t been easy. On the positive side, Ted admitted that, as much as he needed to get back to work, he had really enjoyed the extra time with his two children.
Jan told Ted of her new job but held back on the excitement that she felt. She ached for him. Things had been tough for her but she couldn’t imagine what it would have been like if she still had had children at home. The former co-workers continued to chat as they shopped and they ended up at the check-out together.
The woman ahead of them broke into a huge smile when she saw Ted and Jan behind her. Helen was another co-worker from Reamers. Helen was an old-timer though. There was no one who had been working at Reamers longer than Helen. Even the owners were children when she started.
“You must be about ready to retire,” Jan said to Helen after everyone exchanged updates.
“I can’t retire, Sweetie. I’d go crazy. And besides, those kids that inherited everything from their old man still don’t know what they’re doing. Reamers will have to close down if I retired.”
As everyone was chuckling over Helen’s humor, she pulled the divider out from between her groceries and Ted’s. Only the cashier noticed. He gave Helen a questioning look. Helen only nodded back to him.
“Hey wait! That’s my stuff,” Ted said to the cashier as he began to ring his groceries with Helen’s. “I don’t think that she wants to buy my groceries.”
The cashier started to stutter for lack of knowing exactly what to say. Then his eyes locked on Helen.
“Your money ain’t no good today. Just get your butt around me and make sure everything is kept separate.”
Ted opened his mouth to protest but only thanks came out. He knew Helen well enough to know when it was useless to argue with her. He pushed his empty shopping cart past her as she stepped out of the way. He directed the bagger which things went into his cart.
Helen looked straight at Jan. “The same goes for you, too, Missie. You used to like to argue with me once in awhile. Don’t start again now.”
Jan could feel her eyes well with tears of gratitude. A barely audible, “thank you so much,” formed from her quivering lips.
Helen looked at the cashier. “Just keep on scanning until I say whoa, Buddy.” The cashier nodded.
The total came to $526.39. Helen’s debit card was declined. If ever there was a look on someone’s face that said, “You have to be shitting me,” it was on the face of the cashier.
Helen was not flustered. “Oh it just hit the daily limit. Take $400 off of that card and we’ll run another card for the balance. Before the cashier could even nod in agreement, a hand pushed past Helen that was holding another card.
“Take it all of off of this card.”
“Mr. Reamer!” Helen had definitely been caught off guard. Her boss was the last person on earth that she ever expected to see in a supermarket.
“What’s that matter, Helen? Did you think that just because I’m too stupid to run the company without you that I had no sense of compassion either?” Unnoticed, Don Reamer had witnessed what Helen was doing from the next checkout line over. His face broke into a big grin. “I’m going to take this out your Christmas bonus, though.”
“Good luck with that. You’ll be drawing a deficient for what I get in a bonus.”
A couple of weeks had passed when Jan and Ted ran into each other again in the local Big Box Store. Jan loved her new job and, especially, the nice paycheck that it generated before the holidays. She was shopping for her grandchildren.
Ted was more upbeat this time. He was starting a new job after the first of the year. Still, things wouldn’t improve much until a few paychecks came in. Ted had his two children with him.
“Hey Kids! I could use your help with shopping,” Jan said. “I have to buy some gifts for my grandchildren but I don’t know what kids like this year. Do you think that you could help?”
The children smiled and nodded simultaneously. Ted started to say something but Jan cut him off. “Please, Ted, I promise that I won’t take long.”
Reluctantly, Ted gave in. With the children’s help, it didn’t take long to get a few of the top ten hottest selling children’s gifts of the season into the Jan’s cart. Before checking out, Jan took the kids into the dollar section and told them to pick out anything that they wanted in appreciation for the help that they had given her.
Ted checked out ahead of Jan. Jan rang the dollar items that the children had picked out, first, so that they could take them as they left.
Ted had just finished buckling his youngest into the safety seat when Jan rolled her cart up behind his car. “Pop your trunk.”
“Jan, thank you but, no, really…”
“Pop your trunk, Ted or I’m going to tell your kids who Santa Claus really is this year.”
“Ashley and I have already bought a couple of those things for them so…”
“Then take them back and get something else or give them to the Toys for Tots.” She held up the receipt.
Slowly, Ted took the receipt. He didn’t know what to say except, “thank you.”
“It’s alright. Ted. You’ll get your chance to pay it forward.” Jan hugged him. “Merry Christmas!”
She turned and went back into the store to finish her shopping. She had a good idea what her grandchildren would like.