"You can always count on needing a few more things before Christmas. You're smart being here early."
It was the ornery man talking to me. It had to be me I thought. I was the only one in sight. I was so shocked I didn't reply. I didn't have to. He kept talking.
"You might think I'm out early getting ready for Christmas dinner. Well I'm not. No Christmas dinner at my place. Hasn't been one in years. I'm a widower. My kids are married. None of them live here. Christmas dinners stopped when my wife died. I'm not really shopping. It just looks like I am. Truth is the walls close in on me sometimes. I have to get out of the house so I go to the stores and walk around. I have to get out of my chair. Too much idle time once my wife died. Retirement isn't what it's cracked out to be. I don't like idle time."
He stopped. He stood there looking at me. He was smiling. Suddenly on that early morning the ornery man was not so ornery. He was lonely. I asked him where he'd worked. He told me downstate. That's where he'd met his wife. He moved back after she passed away. He told me they'd had a good life. Then he told me he wouldn't keep me any longer and wished me a Merry Christmas.
"Merry Christmas to you as well, " I replied.
"I'll probably see you at Walmart sometime, " he mumbled with his back to me, pushing his empty cart up an aisle.
Later that evening, upon urging of my 5-year old granddaughter, I opened a gift she handed me as she stood by my side dressed in her beautiful Christmas dress with the biggest, the most excited Christmas Eve smile ever. Once I pulled away the tissue paper I understood why as a box full of reindeer was waiting for me. She and her mommy had gone to a craft show at her school. That's where she bought the reindeer. I don't think she could have picked out anything else that would have meant so much to me as those beautiful reindeer. You see we have a pretend game we play. She is Melanie Kitten and I am Gra Gra Reindeer. Her imagination sometimes stops me cold. It did that night as had that man I'd assumed was ornery earlier in the day.