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As I have become older I find myself becoming more sentimental. Those things that touch my heart, do so deeply. I truly love this time of year, if for no other reason that it tends to remind us to be the nice people we would hope we could be all year long.
Sometimes it just takes a little reminder that there is still good in this world and that every individual can make a difference.
It’s funny how when the number of years indicated on your most recent birthday card increases, so does your level of grumpiness. You never hear of a grumpy young man, right? I must admit that in my middle age, my tolerance for others is not what it used to be.
A few years back at Christmas time my wife Kelly suggested that we throw a small and intimate dinner party for a few of our close friends. In years past we had hosted large celebrations but she knows me well and understands that fourth quarter is my most taxing time of year in terms of work load and schedule. I liked the idea. I really liked the idea. 100 people in your home is work, no matter how much you embrace the holidays. Two other couples coming over for dinner, is a piece of cake! (Regular cake mind you, not that cement block with green cherries in it called fruit cake … oh disgusting stuff, that fruit cake.)
She called me on that Saturday from her car phone and simply asked me if I could run to the grocery store and pick up a few things that she had forgotten. “Sure,” I told her being the joyous grumpy guy that I had become.
Now, the wonderful little town that I live in, and choose to call my home, is a steel mill town that has seen better days. That doesn’t bother me, in fact I like it. Hard working, blue collar families, like me, that have worked hard for everything they have, just feels like home. When I walk into the local pub no one here is impressed that I just happen, by luck, to work on TV. To folks around here I am just …Dan. That’s the way it should be.
Now when tasked to “go to the grocery store,” around here you have a choice to make. Two towns over is the fancy store with a selection of brie cheeses and scones, while the local store is well stocked with can goods and brand names I remember well from my childhood, like Velveeta and Hormel... I like the local store.
I whipped into the parking lot in my pickup truck and noticed a station wagon loaded with what appeared to be the sum total of another individual’s possessions. Sitting beside the car was a woman wrapped in a winter coat on a lawn chair …. With a puppy.
I said I was grumpy, not heartless. Seeing the woman there touched me, but I have to admit it was the puppy that really touched my heart. As I did my shopping of three or four items, I could not get that woman and her dog out of my mind. So, before I hit the register, I strolled down the dog food isle and grabbed a small bag of dog food and then went to check out.
I walked back to the truck and placed my simple bag on the front seat and walked over the to the woman, hoping that I would not offend, and said, “I saw you here, and I don’t want to overstep my bounds” I told her, “but if it is okay I would like to give you this, Merry Christmas.” I handed her the dog food and reached into my pocket and handed her a $20 Bill.
The woman looked up without saying thank you and then said, “Yah know, a nice lady earlier, gave me a big bag of dog food and $100.”
Well hello grumpy old man. In the moment, I said nothing other than, “Well again, Merry Christmas,” and I walked back to my truck grumbling.
It was not the proper place or time to have said anything else. When you have grown up in the Midwest like I have, you do not voice your dissatisfaction with others in public, you talk to yourself on the way home as all good people should do.
That bothered me and festered throughout the rest of the day. To the point when our dear friends, who had gathered at our table, I still found myself in a snit.
My wife called me out, “What’s your problem,” she asked without any harshness.
“I’ll tell you what my problem is (the grumpy man said), you asked me to go to the grocery store and I did. For the sake of time I went to the local market, when I pulled into the parking lot there was a lady there, with a station wagon!”
“Yeah, I saw that earlier,” my lovely wife said, “did she have a puppy?”
“Yessss, she did,” I said letting as many syllables hang in the air as possible….
“I felt so bad for her,” my wife started to say.
“Let me guess,” I told her, “You gave her a big bag of dog food and $100, right?”
“How did you know that,” my wife asked truly amazed.
I started to laugh. The type of laugh that comes from the belly and takes over your entire body. I had not laughed like that in years. Tears welled up in my eyes from the laughter itself.
My wife, and both couples looked at me with a sense of bewilderment but the possible reality that they would need to put me in an “old folks home,” a few more years than had been expected.
“Because, when I gave her a small bag of dog food and twenty bucks,” I said through laughter and tears, “She pointed out that a much nicer person than I had out done me, once again.”
“You out-niced,” me, I said. “How is it that you always seem to do that,” I asked?
In hind sight, that woman I do not know, had received two bags of dog food and $120 bucks. And in doing so I had not received the thank you that in my grumpiness I thought that I had deserved. In that moment, the thank you didn’t matter. My wife, who will always be nicer than me, sweeter and more giving than I can ever attempt, taught me the simplest and most important message of the Christmas holidays. To give, expecting something in return is not true giving. When one gives with no expectation of anything in return what so ever, you truly embody the spirit of what Christmas is all about.
The fact that the lone woman, sitting in a parking lot, may still think, to this day that I am a cheapskate and less than generous, doesn’t matter. She received the gifts. I truly hope in all my grumpiness that it did indeed make a difference.
I think back to that day every year. And every year it makes me smile. It forces me to think outside myself and count my own blessings.
I truly wish to you and yours the very spirit of the holidays. There are no reindeer or Santa’s in my story but it has taught me much about what Christmas is all about.
That grumpy man had become a child again. Star struck and full of surprises. We as individuals always find what we make seek. Sometimes it just takes someone to remind us.
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