Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Kindness and The Free Turkey

I am home. Feet firmly planted back on my beloved lava, but the dream-like memories still floating around my head lazily. Or maybe that's the pre-flight Xanax coursing through my bloodstream.

This week has been amazing on so many levels. To start with, Christmas doesn't suck anymore - which is huge, and really who the hell saw that coming? Not me. We had an entirely pleasant day from start to finish. Weather was lovely, food was delicious, and for the first time in 13 years we spent Christmas with the cousins we grew up celebrating Christmas with. As I dressed my daughter in her red velvet dress and white stockings and shiny black shoes, I experienced a wave of deja vu that would have brought me to my knees if I hadn't already been there.

We careened from one festive family gathering to another, interspersed with a day of skiing here, an evening of ice skating there, a trip to the museum one afternoon, a day at Disneyland to round out the trip..... each a page out of my childhood come to life for my own children, albeit in a different time and place. And then we had to head back to San Diego to catch our flight home. And that is when our story of Christmas gets tied up with a neat little bow. You know how I love a happy ending.

Our week was made possible by the generosity of others. Each night we lay our heads on pillows provided by family and friends, in homes whose doors were opened to us widely and with plenty of holiday cheer. Each day brought another meal prepared with love and shared with joy and laughter. We drove from place to place in a car loaned to us by a couple who have only had the opportunity to spend any significant amount of time with us on one other occasion. And although they do not know us well, they offered us the use of their car and warm beds to sleep in, without hesitation.

I wanted to give them something in thanks before we flew home, but I didn't want to give them something just for the sake of giving a gift. I wanted it to be the perfect gift. This was a challenge, considering that I had never seen their home, and didn't even know their legal names. But that didn't matter......I wanted it to express our gratitude and also to show them that we had given it some thought first, and I was stumped. Gift cards seemed too impersonal for people who had been so kind and trusting. A gift for the home was hard to decide on when we hadn't spent much time there. Gifts of food were impractical, gifts of clothes were inappropriate. So I decided to start at the beginning, to try to express my thanks in writing.

A card.

But first, we needed to get some snacks for the airplane.

We walked slowly through Trader Joe's, trying not to buy anything too heavy or bulky. Trying not to spend too much money after a week of big experiences with price tags to match. We had already decided to stop by Costco for a pizza to bake at dinnertime, so all we needed were a few small things:
Some crackers. A package of berries. A few protein bars. A bottle of sparkling grape juice for New Year's toasting over our pizza later. We chose carefully, put a few things back, discussing and debating and reconsidering, and then made our way to the registers. As I waited for my total, a thank you card caught my eye. I reached out and plucked it from the rack, handing it to the cashier.
"This too?"
"Yes, please."
He scanned it and his eyes widened. He turned to the woman bagging the groceries next to him.
"Here," he said. "Look at this."
She peered over his shoulder as he stood with the card still in his hand and pressed a button. And then they hooted and cheered and high-fived before ringing the bell over my head. Startled, I froze, looking back and forth between them wildly.
"YOU WON!" They crowed. "I knew it! I knew we would get the next winner!" The cashier was ecstatic. His co-worker raced away through the crowd, gleeful and clapping.
"What?" I was bewildered. "I won? I won what? What did I win?"
"You won a free turkey!" the cashier was jubilant.
"I won a WHAT?"
"A turkey! A free turkey!"
"A what? I'm sorry, I am so confused. I don't need a turkey. I don't want a turkey!"
"Would prefer a tofu turkey? Do you eat meat?"
"TOFU TURKEY?! Oh no, definitely not."
The woman who had been bagging groceries came racing back through the store, a package held aloft. "Congratulations!" she was thrilled for us, and I was still trying to catch up.
"But, I don't want a turkey!"
"Oh," she stopped short, confused. "Do you want a tofu turkey instead?"
"God no, absolutely not, it's just tha-"
"Congratulations!" the manager had arrived to punch in some secret turkey code at the register.
"You won!" he was genuinely happy for me. I was genuinely still completely in the dark.
"HOW did I win?"
"Your total was $20.14! It's our New Years promotion!"
"I knew you were going to hit it," the cashier leaned in to confide to me. "I saw the total and then you added that card, and I just knew that when I hit total again and the taxes were added, you would hit it!"
"I won a turkey because I bought the thank you card?"
"Wow. That's uh...... wow."
Sam and the kids were standing at the end of the checkout lane, and now Sam stepped forward to accept the turkey that was still being offered. "Thank you," he said solemnly.
"Yes, right. Thank you!" I was trying to catch up. "Thank you so much. Really."
Everyone around us smiled as we made our way back to the car. I was still holding the card in one hand, and the winning receipt fluttered in the other. We would obviously not need to buy a pizza for dinner.

The moral of the story? Always remember to give thanks. And to be thankful in the moment.
2014, I get it. I am grateful. And I am ready for anything.

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, but I was reminded of the most important part of the holiday in a Trader Joe's, of all places: Celebrate Thanksgiving every day.
And so, inspired by a free turkey and the spirit of the season that should really be celebrated all year, I want to begin 2014 by saying thank you. To you.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for being here. Thank you for being you.
Would you like some turkey?

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