Walmart, 5:04 P.M.—this place is a nuthouse. There are so many folks here it looks like the walls are buckling. Nearly sixteen thousand shoppers with full carts, elbowing for a place.
There are two checkout aisles open. Two.
I’m standing in a line that stretches back to the Czech Republic.
I stopped in this hell-hole to buy more cheap Christmas lights for our tree. Our current lights are junk. Every time a bell rings a strand of lights goes out on our tree.
In line ahead: a young woman with two kids. She’s dressed in a fast-food uniform, holding a baby.
Her infant is screaming. She’s rocks the child back and forth, whispering. The baby locks eyes with me. Her crying stops. She smiles, then laughs.
The mother says in a thick, Alabamian accent, “Reckon she likes you.”
The young woman smiles her few teeth at me.
“Maybe she just smells my dog,” I say.
She brings the baby closer. This child has the biggest brown eyes God ever made. Bigger than Barbara—our childhood Arberdeen heifer, who had eyes like basketballs.
I didn’t expect to feel this way while staring at a child, but something’s happening to me. My voice is high-pitched. I’m making mouth-noises like an outboard motor.
The woman says, “You wanna hold her?”
“Me? No, that’s okay, ma’am…”
At this stage in life, I’ve discovered that people like me weren’t intended to hold babies—we’re meant to watch everyone else have them.
But it’s too late. The girl hands the baby over.
So, here I am, baby against my chest. She’s light. She smells like flowers. Honest-to-goodness flowers. Her bald head is the softest I’ve ever touched.
The child locks eyes with me again. When she does, the world disappears. She smiles and it’s summertime. She lays her head on my shoulder and falls asleep, drooling.
I was a wiseman in my grade-school pageant. Supposedly, three of us trekked across continents in gold striped polyester robes just to hold a baby. Back then, it seemed like a ludicrous idea. Now I understand.
The line keeps moving forward. But I wish it would slow down so I had more time.
The girl checks out. She asks for a pack of Virginia Slims, then removes money, piecing together loose change to pay the cashier.
I hand her the sleeping baby.
She pushes her cart toward the door waving goodbye. And it occurs to me, I never learned the baby’s name.
“Hey wait!” I say. “What’s her name?”
But the girl can’t hear me, so she says, “Merry Christmas, sir. God bless you.”
Yes. Today he did.
And then some.