Christmas Eve shopping

I loved Mr. Morris, the man who came by our house every week to collect our payments on our life insurance policy. He always brought me a postcard-sized color print of a bird, a copy of a painting by James J. Audubon. I thought these were beautiful and saved them in a collection. When he showed up the week before Christmas, I hurried to the door as usual to greet our friend and collect my bird picture, then lingered as he and my mother chatted amicably about the coming of Christmas, a few days away.

What are you giving your wife for Christmas? Mom asked him. I still remember his reply. “Oh, I’ll probably just run to the drugstore on Christmas Eve, buy her a box of candy or something.” I was shocked by his cavalier attitude and told Mom so after he’d left. He was just teasing us, she told me. Maybe. I hoped so.

Mr. Morris’ remark came back to me several years later when as a teenager, I was working in our neighborhood drugstore and waited on a man who rushed in on Christmas Eve and bought a box of Whitman’s Sampler chocolates for his wife. Another man entered just before closing time and did the same thing. What’s with these guys? I thought. Why don’t they shop earlier and choose a more appropriate gift that might better express their love and thoughtfulness?

I suspect that such last-minute shoppers are afflicted with the same disease as those who file their income tax reports on April 15 just before midnight: It’s called procrastination. I feel sorry for the store clerks and others who work late on Christmas Eve and serve procrastinators with a friendly smile and saintly patience. May their Christmas Day bring them plenty of rest and peace. They will have earned it.

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