Event: Worked as a Salvation Army Bell Ringer
Coldest day of the year - Check.
30 mile per hour wind - Check.
Snow flurries - Check.
Frostbite - Check.
Frozen toes - Check.
Can't feel my cheeks - Check.
All in the name of charity - Check.
For most of my adult life I've always had mixed feelings about the Salvation Army Bell Ringers. My emotions range from feeling guilty (I can't put money in every kettle - they're on every corner!) to being annoyed (ugh, they're everywhere!) to feeling bad that I don't do more to help. So, this year I decided I could spare two hours and donate my time (and money) to a great cause. I got online, did some research and signed up to work at my neighborhood grocery store. All I needed to do was to bundle up and show up. The rest would be there waiting for me.
As I prepped to get ready, I checked the weather to confirm the high was going to be 22 degrees. And the 30 mph winds were going to come out of the northeast and attempt to knock me and my little red kettle over. The weather outside is literally going to be frightful. So bundle I must. Long johns, sweat pants and a third layer of fleece pants covered my bottom half. Thick cotton socks and boots covered my tootsies and on top I had 4 layers. I walked out into my backyard and stood for a minute to check my layering strategy, which was perfect. It was then (after I was sweating to death, of course) that I realized I needed to pee. In that moment, I was both a 4 year old and the mom scolding the 4 year old. Seriously.
17 layers back on, as I reached for my keys, I suddenly felt like the little brother on "A Christmas Story". I can't move my arms! I was the freaking marshmallow man, and to add insult to injury, I decided that in order to increase the probability of a donation, I needed to look the part, so I wore a Santa hat. I will not be surprised if I make the cover of Stacy London's "What Not to Wear" 2010 issue. I digress. As I arrived at my bell ringing destination, I relieved a sweet woman who thanked me for coming and said she'd be in the grocery store deli if I needed anything. Confused, I blew it off and focused on getting ready for my bell ringing debut.
I tied on the official red apron (which read, "Doing the most good. I am a bell ringer"), grabbed the bell and before I assumed my bell ringing position, I added my own twist. I found an outlet behind the Christmas trees next to where I was standing. I plugged in the extension cord that I brought and fired up my old school boom box. I pushed play and let 'er rip. Soon the cold, crisp air was filled with Christmas music ranging from Bing Crosby and Aretha Franklin to Burl Ives and Mannheim Steamroller. Quickly I discovered that if I rang my bell in sync with the music, I got more donations. But if I danced and rang the bell in sync with the music, the shoppers couldn't resist it. So there I was, standing in front of the grocery store dancing and ringing my bell to "Joy to the World" and "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and people were lining up to take a look at (and donate to) the Christmas train wreck.
As each shopper walked by, I would yell, "Merry Christmas!" but as time passed and my cheeks and lips began to freeze, my salutation turned into, "Mmmmmmerrrrrry Cccccchristmassss!" That was until a complete stranger came up to me with a donation, a cookie and a hot chocolate. She told me that earlier in the week she and her kids were bell ringers and she wished someone had brought her hot chocolate, so she told herself she would treat the bell ringer the next time she was at the store. I could not believe how thoughtful it was so I immediately thanked her and took a big swig of the hot chocolate. Jesus Mary and Joseph that was a 274 degree mistake. Mother !$@*(%&(@$! I burned the crap out of my tongue. Unable to find a cold metal pole to stick it to, I just stuck it out in the cold air which helped a little. As the 3rd degree burn started to take shape, my once cheery salutation turned into my tongue-is-half-hanging-out-of-my-mouth, "Mayoweee Kwithmuth."
A few more strangers, friends and family members came by and donated and it was refreshing to see the good in people, like the older woman who put a dollar in the kettle and a dollar in my hand with strict instructions to go inside, warm up and get a snack. Or the dad who walked by and told me I was a Saint for doing this.
More Abominable Snowman than Saint, as my shift came to an end, I looked up and saw the same woman who I relieved two hours earlier. Frozen solid and happy to see her, I asked her why she was back again. She told me that she works for the Salvation Army and she had to take the shifts nobody else signed up for. When I asked her how long her shift was, she replied, "6 more hours." Horrified, I asked if she had eaten anything and when she said no, I went into the store, bought her a chicken dinner and hot chocolate and told her I'd cover her shift until she could sit down and eat.
Twenty minutes later, as I drove away, I looked back as she rang her bell and that's when I decided that she was an angel disguised as a bell ringer. Because you know, every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings. And in 6 hours, she will have rung that bell enough to get angel status.
Have yourself a Merry little Christmas.