Ring those bells!
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
It started out as a matter of convenience. When we received news on Monday that the Pine Journal/Northland Smart Shopper won the award for the “Best Decorated Storefront” in the Santa’s Home for the Holidays competition, I insisted that our two staff members who had worked on the display – Joel Soukkala and Lynn Odegaard – be the ones to accept the award that afternoon.
“But I’m supposed to man the kettle for the Salvation Army at 4 p.m.....” protested Joel.
“I’ll cover for you,” I offered expansively. “Where do you need me to be?”
Later, as I entered the outer lobby at Super One, I figured it would be no big deal – only a matter of 15 or 20 minutes out of my day. No big deal....
But in that 15 or 20 minutes, I realized just how big a deal it was. As I rang the bell and smiled at the folks who pushed their loaded grocery carts out of the store, I witnessed a satisfying cross section of humanity bustling past.
Some walked by without saying anything. Others simply said hello. But most dug deep into their pockets and came up with something to drop into the Salvation Army kettle to help needy families of the area get through the Christmas holiday.
“Thank you!” I repeated time after time. “Merry Christmas!”
One woman with a young son smiled as they walked past, and after a couple of minutes had elapsed the two of them reappeared. The little boy walked up to me and stuffed a couple of dollar bills into the kettle.
“I feel so bad,” confessed the mother. “I thought he wanted money for the vending machines, and it turned out he wanted to put money in your kettle....”
Another father with two little boys passed through, handing each of them a dollar bill. One of them immediately ran over to the vending machines in the store’s entry way.
“If you do that instead of giving it to the Salvation Army,” the dad warned sternly, “I won’t ever give you money for the vending machines again.....”
Reluctantly, the little boy and his brother came over to the red kettle with their money.
“Let’s see if you can manage to stuff it in that little bitty slot....” I challenged them.
It took a bit of doing for them to get the crumpled-up dollar bills into the kettle, but in the end, they rose to the challenge with big grins on their faces.
Then another man came through, dropped some spare change into the kettle and said, “You’re Wendy, aren’t you? I recognize you from your picture in the newspaper!” I nodded and smiled as he headed out the door, but before long, he came back.
“Say, I was thinking of writing to you, but I might as well talk to you about it in person,” he said. “I think the job that Super One has done with the lighting in their parking lot is really commendable. It aims the light downward, so it doesn’t pollute the surrounding area. They really should get some recognition for that.”
As I stood there ringing my bell, my family physician, the fire chief, a former co-worker, and a local school principal all came through, stopped to feed the kettle and chat.
“Thank you – and Merry Christmas!” I repeated time after time.
Then a young woman rushed in from the sidewalk outside and cried, “Has anyone, by chance, come through with a $100 bill they found in the parking lot?”
“No,” I replied, “but I will certainly turn it in to the store if they do,” I promised, though I couldn’t help but dwell on the significance of her loss, especially at holiday time.
I rang the bell at a steady pace, and a young girl who was making the rounds of the nearby vending machines soon turned to me and said, “Don’t you ever get sick of doing that?
And indeed, I did find myself inventing new techniques of ringing the bell, just for a bit of variety. I tried ringing it from side to side instead of forward and back. I speeded it up and then slowed it down. I discovered it sounded differently when I rang it with my left hand instead of my right.
At one point, I realized there was no one else in the lobby besides me, so I decided to stop ringing the bell altogether. But as I listened to the incessant hum of the vending machines and the mindless bleeping of the video games, I realized that things simply weren’t the same without the ringing of the bell – whether there was anyone there or not.
I dug few dollars out of my purse, dropped them into the kettle and began ringing the bell once again in the midst of the empty lobby. For me, Christmas had arrived in a most unexpected way.