I believe stores should be closed on Thanksgiving.
Once upon a time ... They were.
Soldiers, service professionals, restaurateurs; they know it is the nature of the business. Personally, I view these as necessities. Many people opt for dinner out on Thanksgiving and emergencies/civil order, well that goes without saying. Shopping does not fall under the necessity category in my book.
I spent 16 years in the retail business. I did my time in the corporate end, as well as the store side. I left the business just on the cusp of the crazy greed (where Black Friday somehow morphed to Gray Thursday). Yes, I even sat at a table once among a few CEOs and Merchandising Presidents where we toyed with the idea of a ‘soft’ open late Thanksgiving for our chain of stores. We unanimously shot this down.
This column idea first popped into my head early last week as I sorted through the circulars of our newspaper the day before its release. Something about buying a ‘life-size’ Santa for $80 off on Thanksgiving just seemed wrong to me on so many levels.
My original thoughts for this piece ran the gamut, but mostly arguing and explaining the sadness I feel that as a society we no longer see the value in just simply ‘shutting down’ collectively for one day.
Then something changed.
After 12 years as a resident and almost a decade since I first covered it, my children and I attended the 20th Annual Spirit of Oakdale.
I first met co-conspirators and event founders Mickey Peabody and Vickie Thompson as a somewhat green and unaware reporter. I was new to this community, I still had much to learn about both my job and the ‘Only in Oakdale’ mentality.
Truthfully, I know that dinners such as Spirit of Oakdale happen all over the country and not just on Thanksgiving. I’ve always wanted to be a part of one, yet somehow never found the time. Yet I digress.
So, last Thursday, as dinners were being prepared and Turkey Trots completed my duo and I left the comfort of our home and headed for the Community Center. My son’s Boy Scout Troop Pack 303 had committed to help and so we joined them.
As we approached, I was uncertain of what we might see or how the children might receive it. We have a simple, but blessed life. We do not really go without, in all honesty. So as we saw the line stretched from the Community Center door almost to our office alley I wondered what they would think.
My six-year -old was first to speak.
“I’m sure glad they have this,” she said, prior to us entering for work. “Everyone should have a good dinner on Thanksgiving, mommy.”
And so… that is how this experience began. As my children found their spots helping and laughing at a craft table, I found mine alongside Saundra Sward and a garbage can. Familiar faces were everywhere and the true spirit of giving was inevitable.
To put it simply, I felt honored.
I felt honored to take the plates from people who do not visit a restaurant on a regular basis. I felt honored to bring punch to a teenage boy who was somewhat timid but just simply thirsty. I felt honored to have children who did not wonder why they did not have a toy, but rather shared in the excitement of the ones who did. In summary… I just felt honored to serve and extremely grateful of these two women.
Vickie approached me at one point and shared how pleased she was to see me at the event. Truthfully, I could barely express the words ‘Thank you for having me. I’m happy to be here.’ My heart was full in a way I had not felt in a very long time and yet here she was expressing gratitude to me.
As the children and I prepared to leave, I graciously thanked both women for continuing this amazing gathering. Choking back my emotion was tough. I was so overwhelmed by this beauty I was able to be a part of.
Once we entered the foyer, headed toward the exit, my children noticed the abundance of empty boxes which first held unopened toys when we first arrived.
Mickey had offered a toy to each of my children and mommy quickly declined the offer. Once my nine-year-old spotted those boxes he quickly stated, “It’s a good thing we didn’t take a toy, mommy. Someone might not have got one if we did.”
In return, I simply smiled and said, ‘Yes, buddy doesn’t it feel good to give?’
On our way home I could not help but think of the thousands of people planning their shopping strategy and me and mine were serving among the community. I wondered how different the world might be if each of us carved two hours from our life on Thanksgiving to serve those who go without. I wondered if others might ‘see’ different as I now did after being blessed by these total strangers.
Many years ago I heard someone say, ‘A smile costs absolutely nothing yet it could change someone’s day.’ That’s how I felt that day. Monetarily, I gave nothing… but my smile… my smile was in abundance because of a room full of strangers.
So, as we each approach this Holiday Season and look to the New Year my request is pretty simple. Please take a moment to not only think of ways in which you might make changes to better yourself. Think of ways that you might live different to make other’s lives better. In the end… we all win.
Thank you Vickie Thompson and Mickey Peabody. It may have taken me a decade to get there but now… well, now I fear you are indeed stuck with me. See you next year.
Teresa Hammond is a former reporter and current circulation manager for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.