Living in poverty can generate stories of kindness, a certain quality of which—I imagine—cannot be experienced by even the slightly well-to-do. As a child, I was struck by my mother’s accounts of her family’s meager Christmases, which colored my sense of the meaning of the holiday. But for a middle-class, second-generation American child, those images—though lasting—could be, at best, a mere copy of the original.
Kristin Z. worked at the Natick Mall in Massachusetts during the Winter of 2005. Christmas was just around the corner and when you work retail during the busiest week of the year, customers can get snappy, and workers can become exhausted. But one customer turned the craziness of the season completely around. And now, 7 years later, the story is told.
I never had a good Christmas in retail. It was always a miserable experience. Managers quit or somebody got sick or was on disability, and for this one particular year I had bronchitis. We were understaffed, we were overworked. There was one manager out on disability, and one was out on maternity leave. And we were just…we were overworked, and we were tired and we were busy. And it was early on a Sunday morning so it had to have been really close to Christmas, and someone at the register had rung something up wrong for this gentleman, or had given him the wrong change - there had been an error. And when I went up to fix it I said, “I’m really sorry. We just haven’t had our caffeine yet today.” And he could probably tell none of us wanted to be there, because at that point in the season you’re done - you’re fried. All you’re waiting for is December 26. And, I’m not kidding, 20 minutes later somebody said “Um, Kristin can you come up to the front?” And I thought oh what is it now? And I’m walking up there thinking to myself another problem I have to put out. And there was this gentleman standing there and he was like, “You said you hadn’t had your caffeine yet. I just wanted to thank you and your staff for all the help you gave me, and for being so efficient. And he had bought coffee for the entire staff.