February 8, 2012 by Steven Worden
Sure, I prepare for Christmas as care- fully as the next guy: put up the tree, string up some lights around the mantle, set up the creche on the bureau with the Three Wise men w-a-a-y across the living room, ever so slowly making their way over the furniture, hopping from coffee table to end table, struggling to get to the stable upon the bureau by Christmas Eve.
I also put up a string of those big ole multi-colored light bulbs up across the roof eaves, pulling a massive drain on the Ozark Co-op’s power grid. I even set up my small, lighted angel in the front yard, to stand demurely back between a couple of post oak trees. I do all the usual things.
But again, nothing, no, nothing, says “The Savior Is Born!” quite like ringing the bell for the Salvation Army. I called up the “Good Ol’ Salvation Army” the last week before Christmas and asked for a shift. It wasn’t until I showed up at the Food Court Entrance at the Northwest Arkansas Mall, that I realized what I was in for. It was about 28 degrees, windy, and on the Northeast side of the Mall. The side that never gets the sun.
Luckily, I was bundled up with heavy boots and several layers of clothes. Even then, my face began to sting a bit from the wind. But, I just hunkered down and thought how I had only 10 hours to go. I spent most of my time opening the door for shoppers and most of them politely thanked me and stuck some coins in the bucket.
I found that I could make a game out of walking back and forth in front of the en- trance, ringing the bell and judging the progress of incoming shoppers by glancing at their reflections in the glass in the en- trance. At almost the last minute, I would then step over to the main entrance door and swing it open with a flourish for the somewhat startled shopper. The games we make up to pass the boring hour.
Noon eventually came and I grabbed the bucket and strode quickly into the warmth of the Mall for a hot slice of Sbarro’s pizza. As I ordered a slice and drink, I joked
with the clerks, but when it came time to pay, they simply said, “It’s on the house!” I was amazed at their kindness and generosity.
As a matter of fact, bell-ringing usu- ally restores a little of my hope in humanity. People are often quite friendly, courte- ous, and generous, stopping to ask if they can bring you a hot chocolate or a cup of coffee, especially as it starts to get darker and colder.
But what I find the most fun is other old men. Through luck or providence, I have become a member of the confraternity of the old dudes. Sometimes, when I am in crowd or group, I’ll see another old dude with that knowing look in his eye: not cynical or negative, maybe just “Yeah, I’ve been here before.”
Often, when bell-ringing, another old dude will simply give me that knowing look, smile, and say something like, “Stay warm.” A few will even walk up to you, clasp you on the shoulder, and quietly say something oddly moving like, “You’re doing a fine thing.” Ah, being in the confraternity of the old dudes is a wonderful thing.
But, after hours in the darkness, the Salvation Army van rolls up, takes the kettle and you fold up the tripod and stick it and the sign (“Doing the Most Good”) inside the doors of the mall and head on home to warm up and revel in another Christmas ritual duly celebrated.