The Christmas Spirit

          Every year, right after Thanksgiving, I decorate the cedar tree in our front yard.  I cover it with those old school large multi-colored Christmas lights, the kind that were banned from indoor Christmas trees years ago because they were fire hazards.  When I started doing it 14 years ago, it only took three strands of lights to cover the cute little Christmas tree.  Then it was only about seven feet tall.  Now it’s over 30 feet tall and this year it took 27 strands to cover it.  It’s become an Oakley Christmas tradition and my personal obsession.  Decorating it is a whole weekend endeavor.  And I totally love it.  Because when it’s done, we have our own Rockefeller Center tree right here on Crooked Oak Lane.  And it always puts me in the Christmas spirit.

Getting lights to the top of a 30-foot tall cedar tree is no easy task.  But over the years, I’ve devised a jack-legged system that actually works.  I use 2-inch PVC pipe, and spray paint each 10-foot long section black and attach the star and the lights to the end of the pipe.  Then I attach two more 10-foot pipes to the end of that pipe and push the star and the lights to the top of the tree.  Invariably, there are always a few things that I need to complete this project.  And this year was no exception.  I needed some extra PVC pipe, fuses, replacement lights and some black spray paint.  So I hopped in the car and headed for the Lowe’s on Johnston Road.

Some people would consider going to a big box hardware store in the middle of decorating a Christmas tree to be a chore.  But not me.  It always brings back memories of going there with my dad.  After I moved to Charlotte, each year on Christmas Eve, my dad and I would go to Lowe’s to Christmas shop for each other.  It was fantastic because hardly anyone was ever there and we had the whole store to ourselves.  While everyone else was at the mall, we’d walk around and buy rakes, shovels and drill sets for each other.  Then we’d go home and wrap them and put them under the tree.  A rake wrapped in Santa paper with a big red bow on it is a very funny site.  I smiled to myself as I grabbed a shopping cart with a worn Scooby Doo sticker on the handle.  I pushed it inside and started gathering my goods.

I went to the Christmas section first to get replacement light bulbs.  This is the part of the store that normally is where you’d find houseplants, but during the holidays, it’s packed with every kind of decoration that you could imagine.  Even old school replacement lights.  I pushed my cart through the clutter and finally found them at the very back.  I put 24 four-packs of lights in my basket.  Six packs of red, six packs of green and four packs each of blue, white and orange.  I grabbed a couple of extension cords and pushed my cart back into the main store.  I went over to the paint aisle and found the duct tape and the black spray paint.  I had no idea where to find fuses for Christmas lights so I stopped one of the guys with the red vests.

“Where would I find fuses?”  I asked.

“What do you need them for?”

“For Christmas tree lights.”  I said as I held up the tiny burnt out fuse that I brought with me.

“Automotive fuses are on Aisle 6.  But I’ll bet they have packs of fuses for Christmas lights over in the holiday department.  They’ll probably be hanging near the back on little I-hooks like this.”  He pointed to some tacks hanging on a shelf beside him.  “If you don’t find them there, come back and get some automotive fuses.  They’ll probably work, but they might be more expensive.”

“Thanks, I appreciate it,” I said as I turned my cart around and headed back toward the holiday department.

I still needed to get PVC pipe from the main store but the pipe came in 10-foot sections so I wanted to get it last.  I went back into the holiday department and pushed my cart through the crowded aisles looking for fuses.  Maneuvering through the narrow spaces between the Norfolk Island Pines and boxes of holiday accent rugs wasn’t easy, so I parked my cart and walked toward the back of the department where I had found the replacement lights earlier.  I scoured each and every shelf looking for the I-hooks that the Lowe’s guy had told me about but I couldn’t find them anywhere.  “Oh well,” I thought to myself,  “I’ll just go back and get some expensive automotive fuses.” 

So I walked back over to my cart.  But when I got to where I left it, it wasn’t there.  “That’s odd,” I thought, “Maybe I left it on the next aisle over.  Every thing in here is so crowded it all looks alike to me.”  I walked over to the next aisle and didn’t see my cart there either.  Maybe someone pushed it out of the way.  I walked over by the inflatable Santa playing golf with Rudolph and looked up and down that aisle and still no cart.  I walked back to where I found the replacement lights and still nothing. Did I leave the cart back in the main building?  I walked back to the entrance to the department and nothing.  A weird sense of panic started to overtake me.  Not because I had lost my cart, but because I thought I had lost my mind.  I’d only left it there for 2 or 3 minutes.  Had I developed a sudden case of what my mom calls CRS disease?  Can’t Remember Shit.  Was I experiencing my first senior moment?  I walked back where I thought I left the cart between the Norfolk Island Pines and the accent rugs.  But still no cart.

Then I saw it.  Not my cart, but a package of red Christmas replacement lights sitting on a clear 4-inch saucer.  It was on the top shelf of a “Grab A Saucer” display of plastic holiday serving trays.  On the second shelf was a pack of green lights and blue lights and as I looked farther down I saw the rest of my replacement lights.  Someone had dumped my stuff and had pilfered my cart.  But I didn’t see the black spray paint or the duct tape or extension cords.  Maybe they were still in the cart.  I looked around at the closest cart in sight.  In it was a Christmas cactus and an orchid.  Beside it stood an elderly African American women.  She was holding another orchid.

“I can’t find my cart.  Did you see anyone push a cart out of here?”  I said to her.

“I saw a lady get a cart a minute ago and push it out of here.”

“Where?”

“In there.” And she pointed back into the main part of Lowe’s.

“Thanks,” I said and I briskly walked back toward the main entrance looking in each cart along the way, hoping to see the black spray paint and duct tape still there and confront the cart thief.

I looked in 6 or 7 carts and saw nothing of mine so I went back to the entrance to the store and got another cart.  I couldn’t understand why someone would go to the trouble of emptying my cart when they could get their own by walking 75 feet to the front of the store.  I wheeled my new cart to the “Grab a Saucer” display and started replacing the replacement lights into my new cart.  As I bent down to grab the last pack of lights, I looked across the aisle and right beside the Orchid Plus water-soluble orchid food I saw my can of spray paint and the duct tape.  “Well,” I thought to myself as I put them into my new cart, “at least I don’t have to go all the way back to the paint section to get those.”

I pushed my new cart by the lady who I had just spoken to.  I glanced at her cart with the orchid and the Christmas cactus in it and I did a double take.  On the handle of her cart was a worn Scooby Doo sticker.  I couldn’t believe it.  This innocent sweet looking little old lady had stolen my cart.  Not only that, she had lied to my face about it and blamed it on somebody else.  I looked over at her.  She was looking at the orchids.

“I can’t believe someone stole my cart.”  I said to her.

She slowly turned around to me and said, “Do you know anything about orchids?  Are they hard to raise?”

I couldn’t believe that this woman was asking me about orchids right after she dumped all of my stuff and stole my cart.  I wasn’t really sure what to say.  I wanted to confront her and say that her cart was actually my cart.  It’s got a Scooby Doo sticker on it, after all.  But she was so sweet and nice and innocent looking.

“They are hard to raise,” I said, “You have to be careful how much you water them and you need to use the right fertilizer.  I think Miracle Grow is the right kind, but I’m not sure.”

“Thank you.”  She said.

I stood there for a minute just staring at the Scooby Doo sticker on her cart.  Then I looked at her and back at the cart.  Just enough to let her know that I knew that she was a cart jacker.

Then I pushed my new cart out of the holiday department back into the main area of Lowe’s and went straight to get the PVC pipe.  All the while I was asking myself why was I such a wimp that I didn’t call her out for stealing my cart?

I went back to the plumbing aisle and I took two 10-foot PVC pipes out of the rack and balanced them across my cart.  I gingerly turned the cart around without knocking anything off the shelves with my pipe and pointed it in the direction of the checkout aisle.  Just as I got to the checkout, I realized that in the midst of all the confusion, I had forgotten to get the fuses.  So I turned the cart around and pushed it back toward the electrical aisle.  This time I wasn’t as graceful in my turning.  The end of the PVC pipe hit a display of pre-packaged Kobalt tool sets and the whole stack tumbled to the floor.  As I stopped to pick them up, two thoughts went through my mind:  One, I can’t believe that lady stole my cart and two, if she hadn’t stolen my cart I wouldn’t have been so flustered that I picked up the PVC pipe before the fuses.  I would have gotten the pipe last and headed straight to the checkout.  The more I thought about the thief, the more pissed I got.  Not only at her, but at myself for not confronting her about it.

I got the fuses, I checked out and swiped my Visa card for $79.47.  I carefully pushed my cart out the front door and through the parking lot to my car.  I loaded my three bags into the front seat and rolled the back window down and slid the PVC pipe in the window.  I grabbed my cart and pushed it back to the cart return. 

As I let go of my cart, I knew I couldn’t let go of the incident that just occurred.  I turned around and started walking across the parking lot back toward Lowe’s.  I was going back in.  I had to tell the lady that I knew she stole my cart.

I walked toward the entrance to the garden department and when I was about 50 yards away from the open-air checkout, I saw the cart-jacker waiting in line to pay.  Apparently she saw me too, because she left her cart and walked two aisles over, turned her back to me and started looking at the pansy display.  I walked up to her cart, which was third in line to checkout and inside it was a Christmas cactus and two Orchids.  My first thought was to remove the flowers and take my cart, but that would have been stooping to her level.

Instead, I looked once more at the Scooby Doo sticker and had a better idea.  I reached over and picked up a 50 lb bag of Scott’s Southern Gold Premium Starter Fertilizer.  Then I picked up another.  And another.  And I put all three bags in her cart.  I looked over at her and her back was still to me in full on avoidance.

I walked over to where she was standing and said, “By the way, I found my cart.”

“You did?”  She said with a look of surprise.

“Yes,” I smiled.  “And I just came over to remind you to get plenty of fertilizer for your orchids.”

“Oh thank you.”

“You’re welcome and have a Merry Christmas,” I said as I walked out of Lowe’s and back into the Christmas spirit.