The last best after-Christmas sale

The after-Christmas sales are nothing like they used to be.

I was at an after-Christmas sale a few years ago and there were a dozen checkout lines open with no wait at any of them. A TV crew stood by the front door sipping Starbucks waiting for more than one shopper to walk through the door at the same time, so they claim it was a crowd. 

The last best after-Christmas sale was 25 years ago. It was before the sales started as soon as you pushed back from the Thanksgiving table. It was old school— the day after Christmas, when men and children stayed home and women went out to do what they were born to do—fight for 50 percent off. The last best after-Christmas sale was the one at which my mother nearly lost her teeth.

It was bitter cold as Mom and I stood with a growing throng outside the locked doors of a shopping mall in Kansas City, Missouri.  We were all there for the same reason—to make a run on the half-off Hallmark cards and gift wrap. It was when women cared to send the very best, before the advent of photo cards and scrapbookers who make their own cards. It was a time when women judged one another by the brand of cards they sent and the quality of gift wrap they used. It wasn’t just a sale, it was your reputation on the line.

The doors opened. The crowd surged through the doors, stampeding through housewares, knocking over Santa mugs on display and sending cookware crashing to the floor. I quickly lost sight of Mom in the crowd, assuming she was threading her way to the front. She’d been on the track team in high school and had long legs.

As for me, I cut a path to the religious cards, aware that aggression should be kept in check when wrestling for cards picturing the Madonna and child.

Across the way, Mom was scoring big-time in wrapping paper. She reached for a roll of foil wrap (something neither of us would ever never pay full retail for) at the same time another woman grabbed the other end of the roll. The other woman began tugging on her end of the roll, at which point my mother, being a courteous person, let go of her end, sending the other woman flying. My mother began laughing so hard that she started to cry. Tears clouding her vision, Mom tripped over another shopper, the force of which partially dislodged her false teeth. 

My mother never took her false teeth out for entertainment purposes like her twin sisters did, which, of course, made those aunts immensely popular with myself and all 24 of my cousins. The fact that my mother, had risked the humiliation of losing her false teeth in public and was still laughing about it shows that shoppers were a dedicated breed back then.

It was a good after-Christmas sale. Maybe the best ever. I wish you could have been there—but only if you were slow and stayed at the back of the pack.


The class of 41

We store mental snapshots of those who have gone before us. They are a shorthand remembrance for legacies of a broader and deeper scope.

When my father died, a friend wrote a tender note and included an acorn. She said my father was like a strong oak, and the acorn was my legacy.

The Smithsonian Museum’s Legacies exhibit contains artifacts that are reminders of well-known historical and pop culture figures, such as the compass used on the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804, Evil Knievel’s jumpsuit and motorcycle, GI dog tags from World War II, Minnie Pearl’s hat and Mr. Rogers’ sweater.

I have long carried a snapshot in my head of President George Herbert Walker Bush. It is the image of a consummate diplomat, one who possesses tact, is at ease forging relationships and adept at negotiations.

My copy of “All the Best, George Bush” is fringed with Post-it tabs marking numerous passages worthy of a second read. They aren’t career or political accomplishments, but examples of how to handle difficult situations, encourage others and hold fast to hope and a vision for the future.

Those abilities seemed innate to Bush, apparent in a letter written to his mother after he joined the Navy the day he graduated high school as a rather innocent 18-year-old, in somewhat jovial correspondence with government officials and even in notes on a meeting with an angry, red-in-the face Henry Kissinger. Much of his writing ended with an upbeat note, a dash of wit or a shot of encouragement.

Like most of us, Bush possessed strong opinions, but they were tempered by finesse and grace. Maybe that’s what humility looks like.

Good will and kindness seemed to be part of his DNA. When he left his post as chief of the U.S. Liaison’s Office in China, the staff who served him by cooking, cleaning and maintaining the residence was genuinely sad to see him leave. How many employees feel like that about a boss heading toward the exit?

When he was President, cameras often zoomed in on him at a ballgame and he’d be mouthing the words to a country song playing in the stadium. Comfortable with himself and comfortable with others, essential qualities for navigating the barbed world of politics.

He was deliberate and candid about noting things that had gone well and things that hadn’t gone well. His writings reveal an ability to place things in context and see another’s point of view. How old school. We could use more of that today.

His ability to lead and unite was astounding as he quickly assembled one of the largest coalitions in history when Iraq invaded Kuwait. How does someone do that?

History will be the judge of 41 as a president.

As a human being, he’d be the first to say he wasn’t perfect.

On our best days, we live life trying to reflect the goodness of our Maker. If, by the grace of God, we have a number of good days, we build a strong legacy. We leave memories, attitudes, habits and ways of treating others that will be remembered long after we are gone.

Bush 41 may have died, but his legacy of goodness is very much alive.