It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. It’s chilly. The department store parking lot is filled with cars.
A woman rings a bell, standing beside a green bucket. She’s raising money for kids with cancer. She wears a Santa hat and sings “Joy to the World.”
I put a few bucks in the bucket. It’s not much, but every bit counts. Ringing a bell for donations is rough work.
Once, I rang a bell outside a supermarket. I was a pathetic, skinny, nineteen-year-old Southern Baptist wearing a stocking hat.
I stood beside a bucket from morning until late afternoon. Hardly anyone noticed me. A few smiled, some tossed in pennies, but most pretended I didn’t exist.
My first day ringing the bell, I raised seven dollars for a program at our church that bought gifts for children in the cancer ward. Seven lousy bucks.
That night, Brother James, looked at my stack of quarters and said, “Don’t feel too bad about it, son, lotta people are busy. They ain’t bad people, just busy.”
But I did feel bad about it. I had met some of the pediatric cancer patients. They were normal, happy, fun-loving kids with hairless heads and big hearts. For some of them, it would be their last Christmas. I wanted to know that these children would get a few gifts from a fat man in a red suit.
I decided not to give up. One night, I went to my uncle for advice.
He listened to my problem without responding. And after I vented my frustration, he smiled, patted my shoulder, and said, “Reach into my cooler and get me another beer.”
He popped the tab. “I think the key here, Sean, is to reee-lax. You’ve done all you can do, that’s all that counts. You want a beer?”
“But,” I explained to my uncle. “I’m only nineteen in this story, and I just said a few paragraphs earlier that I was Southern Baptist.”
“Suit yourself. This is your article.”
The next day, I invited my friend Andrew to play guitar to attract attention from passerbyers.
The day started off strong. One man put in a dollar. Another woman gave us loose change from her pocketbook. But after four hours, I was growing homicidal.
Because Andrew, I came to find out, only knew three songs on his guitar: “Margaritaville,” “Jimmy Crack Corn,” and the chorus to “Jive Talkin’.”
“Don’t you know ANY Christmas music?” I asked.
Andrew shrugged and launched into an encore of “Jimmy Crack Corn.”
I considered gagging him with my Santa hat.
We made four bucks that day. After I counted the money, Andrew said, “Hey, I can come back and help you again tomorrow if you want.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll have my secretary call you.”
The next day, I asked my friend Tammy for reinforcement. Tammy sang in church. She had a good voice and she knew lots of songs. And even if she didn’t know a particular song, she would make up the words because Tammy was a theater major.
That day, Tammy sang, she clapped her hands, she twirled, she even chased one woman to her minivan while singing “Feliz Navidad,” and almost got pepper-sprayed.
We didn’t even make six bucks that day.
The next morning, I stood by the bucket with a sour attitude. I felt sad inside. Not for myself, but that I hadn’t been able to drum up more than more than a few dollars in three days. I sort of gave up altogether.
A familiar, beat-up, rusted Chevette pulled into the parking lot. Other cars followed behind.
My uncle stepped out of the car. A slew of his friends were with him. These were old men in gaudy sweaters, stocking caps, carrying kazoos, tambourines, bongos, and jingle bells.
This crowd of loud men formed a mass choir in front of the supermarket. They sang “Silent Night” and sounded like Labrador retrievers with chest colds.
They drew a crowd. A big one. They sang “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and people started singing along. Folks were tossing money into the bucket, hand over fist. And when my uncle sang, “Do You Think I’m Sexy?” he got three marriage proposals and one restraining order.
We made over eighty dollars that day. I was overcome. I sat on a curb with my uncle and almost started crying. I asked him how he’d managed to get all his friends together on such short notice.
“Son,” he said. “I’ve learned one thing in my life. People are good. And good men will help you do anything when you promise them free beer.”
I know life gets busy.
But don’t forget about the kids this year.
theholtgirls - November 29, 2018 6:54 am
My 15yo girl and I will be ringing bells the first Friday in December. We’re bringing our practice CD for our church Christmas program. I strongly suspect people may pay us to be quiet! If they don’t, we will just keep singing! I’ll let you know if we gather any support for the Salvation Army! Merry Christmas, Sean!
Pamela McEachern - November 29, 2018 7:03 am
People that serve others are the richest people I know. I always thank the person ringing the bell and say a prayer for them. I hope this is a record year for donations!
Peace and Love from Birmingham
Estelle Davis - November 29, 2018 8:18 am
Most of us have food to eat, a warm place we call home and warm clothes this winter. And we have it abundance. Remember the reason for the season. Remember the child who we celebrate gave us the greatest gift … salvation. He said for us to take car of the sick, the hungry and thirsting and the unlovable. Give what you can. Every bit counts. And you will be blessed for it. Thanks Sean for reminding us.
Marilyn Vance - November 29, 2018 9:49 am
My friend, whose property was destroyed by Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, said that the only people who have helped day by day is the Salvation Army. They will be getting my donation this year…..go on, RING THOSE BELLS and keep doing the good stuff!
Caroline Stinson - November 29, 2018 9:57 am
Awesome story Sean. I ring the bell for the Salvation Army every year at Christmas time. And I know right where you’re coming from on this one! But in the end there are a lot of good people in this world♡♡♡
Keep up the positive stories they make my day!
Kelly - November 29, 2018 10:15 am
Your Uncle sounds like a wonderful man and too much fun! The bell ringer at my grocery store sings every year and this year upgraded his iPhone so his music sounds amazing! I look forward to seeing him every year! Salvation Army is exactly what their name says – they do amazing work! ???
Elizabeth Edens - November 29, 2018 11:07 am
Is this true? Awesome story!!!!
Brenda Hill - November 29, 2018 12:07 pm
Sean, I love starting my day with your posts! Nothing better than a hardy laugh out loud and most days, a tug at my heart with a reminder to try to be a better version of myself. Keep up the good work!
Gail Pollock - November 29, 2018 12:23 pm
Loved this one…Got me in the Christmas spirit!!
Becky - November 29, 2018 12:35 pm
Loved your story today, especially the word ‘gaudy’. My momma said that a lot, usually in reference to other women. You gave me a moment to think about her. Thanks. I’ll throw a dollar or two in the next Christmas bucket I see.
Deena - November 29, 2018 12:35 pm
Debbie Smith - November 29, 2018 12:49 pm
I will never pass a Bell Ringer again!
Joyce Mullikin - November 29, 2018 1:24 pm
You have a wonderful gift, Sean. Please never stop lifting us all up.
Amy - November 29, 2018 1:45 pm
I absolutely love today’s column. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Carol - November 29, 2018 2:23 pm
I never forget , every month I send to St. Jude.
It’s my tith to God!
Thank you for reminding people and next time I see the kettle I’ll have some change !!
Bev deJarnette - November 29, 2018 2:37 pm
Sean, I wish there was a way to get this story on the front page of every newspaper and every news station everyday until Christmas!!!! What a precious picture of you and “paint”❤️❤️❤️❤️??????
Jack Darnell - November 29, 2018 2:39 pm
Sometimes I wonder……. But then when it is or kids and someone is serious, anything can happen. Keep ringing OUR bells…. Never forget the kids (who need it!)….
Bev - November 29, 2018 2:40 pm
I meant, what a precious picture you can “paint” with your words!!!!
Jack Darnell - November 29, 2018 2:42 pm
My last comment needs editing, this one will too, but yep I love ’em Bell ringers. Kids are very important especially the young cancer victims…….
Connie Havard Ryland - November 29, 2018 2:50 pm
Perfect. Love and hugs.
Laurence Church - November 29, 2018 2:51 pm
Thanks, Good One!
Pat - November 29, 2018 3:35 pm
I know your Uncle And Friends were a sight to behold. In my mind I picture your uncle looking like cousin Eddie in Christmas Vacation. Cousin Eddie would have done the same for a family member. I would’ve paid good money to see/hear it!
Sheryl Gilliland - November 29, 2018 3:51 pm
It’s not even December yet and already holiday advertising etc., is causing anxiety issues! Thanks for your column today. It’s the perfect perspective for this time of year. You made me laugh out loud! Thank God for all the “bell ringers” and the good they accomplish!
Patricia Gibson - November 29, 2018 4:26 pm
Merry Christmas Sean
Brett Campbell - November 29, 2018 4:28 pm
Sean, you never cease to entertain and move me with your writing. I laughed til I cried reading this. Maybe I was just really tired and it was 12:30 a.m. when I read it, but I don’t think so! Love you, brother. Keep on sharing your gifts.
Edma B. - November 29, 2018 4:48 pm
Wonderful story!! I always give to the bell ringers. I would loved to have been there to see your uncle and his friends singing carols. Sean, you have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.
Shelton Armour - November 29, 2018 5:29 pm
I haven’t forgotten. And I’ll do more still…after all, you can’t take it with you and kids deserve a good Christmas.
Cathy Moss - November 29, 2018 10:41 pm
Sean, you are reminding all of your readers that Jesus is the reason for the season and that giving is far more meaningful than receiving. You have been an early Christmas gift to me because every message you write inspires me to be a better person. I look forward to your word every day. Don’t stop. Merry Christmas. You are a blessing to many.
Roy Parker - November 29, 2018 11:12 pm
I try to have a few extra dollars on me so I can contribute to the kettles when I encounter them. Thanks for reinforcing that idea. I hope this is their best season ever! Thanks Sean, and Merry Christmas.
anita crabtree - November 30, 2018 1:13 am
Mounier Brenda - November 30, 2018 4:54 am
Reading your blog today. What a great way to end my day- – -laughing my head off!
I’ll sleep well.
Susan - November 30, 2018 5:57 am
Pamela Sullivent - December 1, 2018 10:45 am
Sean, I look forward to your email every day!
It brings me great joy!
I love the way you describe your relationship with your wife. My husband is my best friend too. He believed in me when I lost all hope when battling cancer. I can proudly say I have 7 years of being cancer free!!
I don’t think you have ever mentioned riding a school bus, have you?
I have been a school bus driver for 23 years and I love my job. I can tell you some stories that will make you laugh and cry. I wish these parents would THINK before they discuss their business, good and bad, in front of children. We know what, where and how they live via their child whom they think isn’t listening.
I think it takes a special person to drive a school bus. Not to count the hats we wear. It’s hard not to hug one of my bus babies when I know my hug may be the only one they get.
Keep up the great blog!!
Janet Mary Lee - December 1, 2018 5:36 pm
A heart stopper!! I agree, this should be in every newspaper in the country!! And read from a few news stations and pulpits!! Thanks you!!