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Columns | "A Balloon In Cactus"

Songs of Christmas

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand

To get in the mood, I've been listening to Christmas songs on the radio as I wrap gifts for children, grandchildren, friends. The songs triggered more than I'd bargained for. Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" is a song that brought tears to my mother's eyes, during WWII. Elvis's "Blue Christmas" was my coming of age (first kiss), and "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" with Andy Williams, on whose NBC show I worked later in life. Suddenly on the radio bounces Gene Autry's "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer," and up comes the memory of working at Lamston's Five & Ten Cent Store during Christmas week when school was out.

I stole a lipstick sample from their cosmetic counter and my mother made me take it back. (Shaming is much more effective than spanking.) While I was force-apologizing to the manager, he offered me a part-time job, and I wanted to earn money to buy presents for my family and friends. So there I am the following week, Employee No 163, timecard and all, at 14 years old, with a work permit (you could get permits that young when school was not in session), and where does the store station inexperienced me? At the toy counter, the busiest counter in the entire store for the entire year and where Gene Autry's "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer" was looped and played all day long. ALL DAY LONG!!! And loud.

I got stuck wrapping big Tonka trucks ("I want it in a box." "It's already in a box." "No, I want another box outside that box."), toy trains ("Where's the box? It's supposed to be in a box."), dolls ("Watch out you don't mess up her hair! That's real hair, y'know.") People were often quite rude. ("Are you sure you know what you're doing?") They shouldn't holler at a kid like me. I had a home for that. Such a hollerer was the customer who had ten comic books in her hand. "How much?" she asked. I told her what the store taught me: price of the item plus tax. "Ten cents each plus tax." "Whaddya mean tax? Why should I pay tax on comics?" I said the truth: "I don't know. You just do." She lost it and shrieked, "I DON'T HAVE TO PAY TAX FOR COMICS AT THE CORNER DRUGSTORE!" I could feel my face burning as other customers were standing there watching, waiting to be helped, as "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer blared nonstop. So I did all I could think of. I hollered back at her, "THEN BUY THEM AT THE DRUGSTORE, WHY DONTCHA!," yanking the comics from her hand.

I guess we could be heard, even over Rudolph, because the manager came over, apologized profusely to the customer, gave her the comics for nothing, told me to follow him to his office, advised me my paycheck would be docked the full cost of the comics, and fired me. That paycheck, my first ever, was spent, but I kept the envelope. On the back (shown) you can see my employee number and amount of check ($7.57, down from $8.57) and, on the front, was written "My first pay! Lamstons 5 & 10, Dec. 21." It was stuck in my high school diary and I dug it out just for this.

Lamston Envelope

Moral of the Story: It's good to remember painful days of childhood when you hear Christmas songs - even if only something to admit to a million lives later, on the internet.

© Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus" December 16, 2016 column

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    Maggie Van Ostrand's Christmas

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  • A Higher Calling
  • Christmas Shopping
  • Lame Christmas Gifts: It Is Harder to Receive Than to Give
  • The Crookedest Christmas Tree
  • A Blue Christmas
  • The Truth About Rudolph
  • Christmas Past
  • Las Posadas
  • The Night the Posse Chased Santa

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