Remembering the night they turned out the lights on Christmas Eve

Published 2:29 pm Friday, December 6, 2019

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When I see the ads about stores being open until midnight and beyond during the Christmas shopping season, I want to cry. Where were these people when I needed them?

It was Christmas 1984. I owned my own public relations firm and, thankfully, it was very successful. As much work as I could handle. On Christmas Eve, I was finishing up an assignment for a large client which involved a lot of detailed concentration. I suddenly realized it was getting late and, as usual, I had done no Christmas shopping. Time to wrap things up.

My kids had always assisted me in buying gifts for Mom, as in, they bought them for me. But they were grown now, out of college and in the workforce. When they were little tykes, I did the job myself and always at the last minute. By last minute, I am talking 8-9 o’clock on Christmas Eve when most people had gone home and I could shop at a leisurely pace. Now that I was once again Chief Shopper, I was about to discover things had changed since those days of yore.

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It was after 8 p.m. when I got in the car and headed for a local shopping center. As I arrived, I noticed all the lights were out. Had there been a power outage? Strange, because my office was nearby and the lights had been working when I left. Upon closer inspection, I discovered the place was closed tighter than the proverbial tick.

It is now 8:30. I decide to check out another major shopping center in the area. Lights out there, too. Uh. Oh. There could not have been two power outages.

Time for Plan B. Hit one of the Big Box chains and get something — a wallet (whether she needed one or not), a set of handkerchiefs, some bubble bath, a Larry Gatlin CD — anything. Besides, she could always take it back and exchange it for something she liked better. She enjoys shopping, anyway.

10 p.m.: Every major chain store you can name is closed. Shuttered. Dark as pitch. Empty parking lots. Time to panic. Surely, somebody is open at this hour. It is Christmas Eve, after all.

I am now reduced to finding a drug store. The quality of my gift list has diminished greatly. I know there will be no wallets available at a drug store, no Larry Gatlin CD. I will be lucky if they sell bubble bath.

It is hard to believe today but at 11 PM, there were no drug stores open and then — Hark! I see a light on in one. It was closed but there was someone inside. I banged on the door and remember yelling, “If you believe in Christmas, please let me in!” I am lucky the guy didn’t call the cops and report a nutcase pounding on his door and yelling incoherently. Had he done so, it would have been the perfect ending to a perfectly screwed up Christmas Eve.

By some miracle, I happened on a kind soul who recognized my plight and let me in. I hurriedly bought some doodads, I not sure what — it was all stocking stuffers — and headed home a broken man.

At the time, the Woman Who Shares My Name was a Delta Air Lines nurse working evenings. I remember pacing the floor, waiting up for her to get home. As she walked in the door, I blurted out, “I didn’t get you anything for Christmas!” This, to a woman who had finished her shopping in June. Not only that, but in high school she had worked at a large department store during the Christmas season gift-wrapping customer purchases. Her gifts to me looked like something out of Better Homes and Gardens. My gifts to her were contained in a stocking.

To make matters worse — as if they could be — she was totally understanding of what had happened. She knew I was working hard and had let time slip up on me. Rats. I deserved a good chewing out. Instead, I got sympathy. But, smart women she is, she probably had already figured out that I would over-compensate for every Christmas to follow and I did. To say she fared well from my blunder is an understatement.

We are past the stage of loading up on presents these days. We have each other and a wonderful family. That is gift enough. But I will never forget the night they turned out the lights on Christmas Eve.