Ask Josh and Jena to share a Christmas memory and more than likely they’ll mention something that happened in a mall. Our kids and Tammy, grew up spending Thanksgiving through the day after CHRISTMAS helping us run our business in various malls across three or four states.
Because we home-schooled during this period, our kids came to the mall with daily schoolwork. Mall employees often stopped by their work table to offer assistance. It was sweet to see a security guard spend their break tutoring our kids. (No offense..but REALLY? Great grandma dragging down the mall halls in a police costume with NO GUN, NO STICK..I reckon her best defense would be threatening a shot of granny PANTIES if they don’t hand over THEIR guns)
So, anyways..doing what we did enabled us to do church evangelism for the rest of the year. I also believe it was our greatest mission field training prior to being foreign missionaries. LIFE in the SECULAR CHURCH as we called it. For years we received hands on experiences-dealing with non church people.
I want to share one of MY best memories about one such Christmas. During our time in New Zealand, we ran our business there two seasons, skipped a season and then came to America for our allotted furlough time during the Christmas season so we could bolster our support. After 09/11, church finances, like everything else, suffered. Fortunately, we had a sideline to rely on so we set up in two malls to offset our dwindling financial support.
HE was just downright annoying. The big oaf hawked and squawked from the time the mall walkers came in until the last patron sauntered out. Of all places for the mall to put me, I was beside an overzealous, irritating foreigner. Our carts were just fifteen feet apart…yep, it would be a LONG four weeks.
He was selling CHEAP, radio controlled cars..that he couldn’t CONTROL. The guy was oblivious to the dangers of an electronic mouse zooming in and out of mall traffic. More than once, I pointed out that if he caused anyone to fall, he’d be liable. Did he heed my advise? ZOOM, ZOOM, ZOOM..heck no!
The guy was the same age as my son, though he looked older. At 6′ 5″ inches, his lanky frame made him look odd. When he opened his mouth and spoke with REALLY broken English..he appeared..no other way to put it..a bit off.
For the first thee weeks, I tolerated him..barely but, by the time the week of Christmas rolled around, I was tired, stressed about the lack of sales and just ready to think about a HAPPY NEW YEAR.
Not O’FEAR. Whilst EVERYONE else chalked that year up to a bad season..he wasn’t ready to surrender. One evening as I read a mall bulletin advising that an ice storm was about to hit the area, it was so SAD that I had to laugh. For a retail business owner-having the mall close during that last three day span, you can bank on losing thousands. There’s no making those days up and in an already lean year..it’s a devastating loss.
As I finished the memo, a young couple walked up to read my poems. They had a three year old in a stroller and a one year old eager to escape Daddy’s arms. Shopping for grandparents. YES! Easy $25 sale..a double frame with verses on each side for MeMaw & PaPaw. I was already working around two restless boys, the last thing I needed was a NEEDLESS distraction.
Thanks to O’FEAR’s DEMON cars, my customers migrated to his cart BEFORE I could make a sale. They didn’t buy anything from him either and when they walked on, I headed to his cart..let me tell you, I wasn’t happy.
Look, man, I’ve tried to be nice..it’s unacceptable for you to cross that line (I pointed as if there really was a line between our carts) I would’ve had a sale had you not interrupted. Don’t send your toys to my side whenever I have customers. Understand? He flashed a grin and bobbed his head up and down. Pardon, Wis. Didn’t mean to do dat. I p-thromise.
O’FEAR, I realize you aren’t from here..but you’re getting on a lot of nerves, the way you flag people down…Americans don’t like to be pressured. If they want to buy something from you, they will. Stop being so pushy..I’m telling you for your own good. (and mine!)
It went right over his head! While he did adhere to the imaginary line, it didn’t stop the peddling behavior in the slightest.
That night I drove the ten minutes to our temporary apartment fuming. I was convinced that my sales would’ve definitely been higher if I hadn’t been stuck beside O’FEAR. Some seasons were better than others-this one hadn’t shaped up to be one of the better ones..that was for sure.
Snow was falling as I wheeled into the parking space outside of our unit and about the time I got inside, Jena called to say there was no way she’d be able to drive the thirty miles from the mall she and her dad were running. To make matters more complicated, Chip was stuck on the other side of the interstate and couldn’t get through until the morning. They’d worked out a plan for her to spend the night at a hotel with a couple running a cart beside of ours.
I went to bed, exhausted mentally and physically..worried about my Chipper driving in bad conditions and my daughter, who at nineteen, was in a strange city and hotel-alone with people we’d only known for three weeks.
I got up that morning to a winter wonderland indeed. SNOW everywhere. No doubt the mall would be closed..but, because we’d be getting that final load a day late, I knew I’d have no time to reshuffle frames prior to Christmas Eve. I decided that I could do more good at the mall, rearranging my merchandise than sitting in an apartment by myself all day.
There was hardly anyone on the roads as I made my way to the mall. All the way, I calculated our loss..two locations..two days before Christmas, easily $3,000 was gone with NO days to make it up.
When I got to the mall, I parked at the loading dock and hurried inside. The security guards were there and we chatted about the bad timing of the snow before I made my way to my cart. Sounds eerie, but, there’s a sense of family in a mall..much like a hospital or any other business. You get close to people.
In fact, my Chipper once married a couple in center court. Honest truth! We worked two seasons with a couple who sold toy helicopters. He surprised her with a diamond and they decided being married in the mall was a novel idea, so Tim and Cindy asked Chipper if he’d perform their ceremony. A local news team showed up and did we ever have a crowd! How many pastors can add that to their resume?
I had just rolled up my tarps when I heard a familiar shuffle coming towards me. EVEN ON an “OFF DAY”…I couldn’t escape MY CHRISTMAS NIGHTMARE!
Wis! Did you see snow? I smiled and waved to be nice. Mornin, O’FEAR. I’m here doofus … of course I saw the snow. DUH! Both of his arms were loaded as he approached the cart.
He dropped it to the floor and went back out. Five minutes later, he came in with another arm load..went out and returned that way a couple more times.
I can’t tell you how ashamed I am that this was the first time I’d noticed this man-child was COATLESS, HATLESS, GLOVELESS, and SOCKLESS. About his third or fourth trip in, his nose was so cold that it was glowing like Rudolph’s. His hands were blood red, too.
He dumped the boxes from his arms and headed back down the corridor. This time, I followed him quietly. Outside, he burrowed his hands in his pockets & jogged across the slippery, empty parking lot to an old rusty compact jalopy with plastic taped around the back window. He propped a board against the trunk hatch and removed the last two boxes. I hurried back inside before he caught sight of me.
Suddenly, the sight of O’FEAR melted the ice around my heart. Had nobody told him that he could pull to the door to unload or that there were carts in the storage area that he could use to bring boxes in on at one time?
When he put the last of his product down, he blew feverishly into his hands, this overgrown boy was shivering wildly. O’FEAR, why don’t you have on a pair of gloves? You’ll get frostbite! He grinned. And, why aren’t you wearing your coat? He grinned even bigger. No have one.
As he put his toys away, I studied him. The khakis he had on were the ONLY pair of pants I could recall him wearing. The thin, blue shirt..the one that the long sleeves were way too short..I couldn’t remember him having anything on but that shirt..for the first time in three weeks, I got the idea that he wasn’t going sockless in freezing temperatures just to make a fashion statement.
You decided to use the day to clean up, too, huh? He shook his head. I come to make sales. At first I thought he was joking with a sarcastic comment. But, you had to know O’FEAR to know that he wasn’t joking at all.
O’FEAR..that memo they sent out last night was to let us know that if we got snow, the stores would be closed.
In true form, he grinned widely. Dats good news for us, Wis. Customer won’t know de mall closed-dey come and we here to sell. If nobody got anyting for dem, den dey get from you and me, aye? Bless his heart, he thought this was going to be a selling point.
O’FEAR..people who live here know the mall closes in bad weather. I didn’t come to sell..I came to get ready for tomorrow and Christmas Eve. We’ve only got two days left to sell, if we don’t get more snow!
I have to sell today.. to meet my daily quota or I don’t have enough to send home. Suddenly, my Nightmare didn’t seem all that frightening. You’re from Israel, right?
He smiled. Yes. Near the Gaza Strip. I come to America with work visa to make money for my family. I hope I can go to college in this country so I can help my parents, brother and sister when I return. It’s harder dan I believed, but, I can do it. I’m a tough Israeli. He flexed his bony arms and snickered at himself..drawing me into his charm.
Writing this brings a flood of emotions..O’FEAR impacted my life..GOD used this unlikely person to teach me to SEE with HIS eyes and to HEAR with HIS ears. His Jewish name means means deer..and he was a deer and a DEAR who I’m proud to have known.
You really don’t have a coat? His welfare had became instant priority. Not yet, but, I get one when I make quota and hand warmers, too! He held up his gigantic hands..they were still purply red.
Picture what I saw that day as I put on my coat, gloves, scarf and prepared to leave. A twenty one year old Israeli, standing in a mall ALONE, driving his toy up and down the aisle..waiting. Tears are rolling from my eyes..a scene seared forever in my thoughts.
Going back to the apartment, I noticed that KMART (THANKS to WALMART) was open. I think I was probably the only person shopping..but it was one of the happiest shopping excursions of my life! I got a coat, gloves, a scarf and a beanie, socks, tee shirts, underwear. YES I DID buy the boy UNDERWEAR! I was fairly sure that they were most definitely on the must have list as well!
I headed back to the mall an hour or so later and floated inside. By this time, O’FEAR had realized that nobody was coming..he was sitting on his chair, no smile anymore.
Hey, you! Aren’t you ready to give it up for the day? He looked at me sadly. You were right. Dey not come today. I set the bags at his feet. Well, you’ll be all the more ready for them tomorrow! You need to dress properly! You can’t drive those silly cars with frozen fingers!
He pulled the stuff out of the bags..NO JOKE..jumped out of his seat- picked me up and whirled me around in the middle of the mall like a rag doll. FOR ME? You bought all dis for only me?
He put the coat on, the gloves, the beanie, I’ve never given anything that was so appreciated in my life. I stood there and cried as I watched him. We left together that afternoon, O’FEAR and me. I gave him a ten dollar McDonalds card and told him to go get himself a BIG MAC.
Let me tell you the BEST part of this story. The next morning when I got to the mall, O’FEAR’S status had drastically changed. He was no longer a pesky CHRISTMAS nightmare–not to just me..but to everyone who’d been working around him. He REALLY was annoying with those cars! Overnight, he became the object of much affection!
Come to find out, the security guards had spied on us the day before and the details of his situation quickly spread. All day long, he got gifts- pants, shirts, a few employees at Things Remembered chipped in and bought him a pair of weather resistant shoes! It’s a CHRISTMAS I’ll never forget..being there with a group of strangers who adopted a young man and made CHRISTMAS one that he’d always remember!
Christmas EVE about an hour before closing time, he asked me to watch his cart so that he could go to the restroom. About fifteen minutes later (back to his OLD TRICKS again, I thought as the minutes ticked on) he returned with a small gift box. He put it on my register like a child, giddy for me to open the gift right then and there.
As I lifted the lid, he beamed. I tell jewel man dey must not be too big..they for tiny, tiny woman with gigantic heart.
Those earrings are one of my all time most treasured gifts..not because of the monetary value..but because GOD reminds me each time I look at them, how important it is that I allow HIM to be my VISION.
I don’t know what became of O’FEAR..but, I’ll never forget him or the people at that Tennessee Mall. Together, we experienced the true joy of giving!