An interstate gas station. Christmas music is playing overhead. The place is busy. There is a ten-minute wait for the men’s room.
I am here to buy some crummy boiled peanuts and fill up my truck. I have another hour left on the road.
I can’t believe it’s already Christmas season. The holidays come quicker each year. It feels like only yesterday we were shooting fireworks and waving little American flags.
The line at the cash register is long. I am standing behind a young man who looks exhausted. He is covered in sweat and dust. He is wearing work boots and a neon reflective work vest.
There is only one cashier. She is old, she wears a Santa hat and calls everyone “sweetie.”
She is a cheery woman, with white hair and blue eyes. She sends every customer away with kind words and a smile. She says things like:
“Take care, now,” or, “God bless,” or “Have a good day, sweetie.”
The young man ahead of me carries a Gatorade and a bag of potato chips. When it’s his turn to pay, he digs into his pocket and places a handful of dollars on the counter.
He says, “Can I have four dollars of gas on pump two, please?”
“Four dollars?” the woman says.
She doesn’t answer. Instead, she glances out the window. She sees what we all see. There is a red truck near the window, a young family inside it.
“You drivin’ that red Dodge, sweetie?” she asks.
Her face breaks into a toothy smile. “Well, you’re in luck, some guy overpaid earlier on that pump. You can go ahead and have thirty bucks of gas if you want.”
“Really?” the kid says.
She gives him a receipt. He heads for the door. Before he exits, she hollers:
“Merry Christmas, sweetie!”
“Yes, ma’am,” he says. “Merry Christmas.”
We all see him through the window. He is pumping gas. He is smiling, and he doesn’t look nearly as tired as he did earlier. He kisses one of the children in the vehicle. He rubs the head of another.
Before the cashier calls the next customer to the register, she removes a pocketbook from beneath the counter. She takes out a few ten-dollar bills and places them into the register.
Then she announces, “I can help who’s next, please.”
That would be me. I set my items on the counter. I am trying not to be too nosy here, but I can’t help myself.
“That was really nice of you,” I whisper. “What you just did.”
She blushes. The woman knows she’s been busted.
“Nah,” she says, waving a hand at me. She adds nothing more to her statement because anything else would be too much.
So I pay for my things. She hands me a receipt.
Before I leave, she hollers, “Have a good day, sweetie!”
Soon, I am at the pump. The young man is still getting his thirty dollars’ worth of gas. A little girl is hugging him so tight they might as well be Siamese twins.
He smiles at me. And I can see something on his face.
I wish I knew how to describe his look, but I can’t. It’s magnificent. Maybe it’s pure youth. Or maybe it’s something a lot bigger than that.
Maybe it’s the wonderful feeling that leads a body to believe that no matter what happens, no matter how bad things get, there are unseen forces watching us, helping us, loving us. A feeling that, even if all Hell breaks loose, even if the universe falls apart tomorrow, it’s all going to be okay. Because we’re still here.
Whatever it is, the kid can feel it. His girl can feel it, too. So can I.
And all it took was a cashier in a Santa hat to make us feel that way.
It’s going to be a Merry Christmas.