A Christmas Short Story - TWAS THE WEEK BEFORE CHRISTMAS
Hope you enjoy this Christmas short story I recently wrote. Wishing everyone a very blessed Christmas season and a safe and happy New Year!
Twas the Week Before Christmas
Ah, at last, the Christmas cards are finally sealed and ready for mailing. All they need now are some holiday stamps from the post office.
“Did you get the stamps I asked you to pick up?” my wife called down from upstairs.
“Running out now,” I replied, as I threw on my jacket and scarf.
“Better hurry. I was hoping to get those cards to everyone before Christmas.”
“Not to worry.” I dashed out the door and headed for the car.
After a short drive, I pulled into a crowded parking lot in front of the post office. A cold wind cut through the air as I bounded from the car to the front door. What’s this? A green sign taped to the front glass of the door caught my eye:
DEAR CUSTOMERS. WE ARE OUT OF CHRISTMAS STAMPS. HOWEVER, IF YOU USE THE SELF-SERVICE MACHINES, YOU STILL MIGHT FIND SOME CHRISTMAS STAMPS AVAILABLE THERE.
I thanked a kind gentleman who was leaving through the adjacent door and held it open for me. “You may not want to thank me after you see the line in there.”
Sure enough, as I entered the lobby, a line of about twenty people extended out from two customer service windows, each with a post office clerk standing behind it. In between them was a customer service window that remained noticeably unattended. Was there a clerk working that station? Was he or she on a coffee break? Was that person coming back anytime soon?
Reminding myself of what the sign on the door had said, I turned my attention to the two self-service machines standing up against the back wall of the lobby. As I approached, a man suddenly finished a transaction at one of the machines. Looking around to see that no one else was waiting to use it, I stepped forward and began reading the instructions.
Now normally, I would probably prefer not to use a machine like this. But under the circumstances, I felt I had no choice. It seemed simple enough. I began pressing the screen as it directed me through a series of promptings. Did I want stamps? Yes. Choose from the following values of stamps depending on the weight of the letter or parcel you are mailing. Does your letter or parcel weigh 3.5 ounces or less? Yes, I think so. Press here for 60 cent stamps. Done. How many stamps would you like to purchase? 50. Press here to complete your transaction.
I hesitated. I couldn’t help but wonder why the machine hadn’t given me an opportunity to see what Christmas stamps I might like to choose from? I turned my head and noticed that a line had suddenly formed behind me.
“All right!” exclaimed the woman at the machine next to me. “Got my Christmas stamps! They aren’t the Madonna and Christ child I was hoping for, but I’ll take them.” She held them up for all to see––a collection of stamps each with what looked like one of Santa’s elves holding a wrapped present with a bow on top.
I turned again and noticed the man behind me looking at his watch, sending me a clear signal that it was time for me to finish. I inserted my debit card into the machine. Well––I guess elves are better than no Christmas stamps at all. As the machine produced my receipt, I could hear something beginning to collect at the bottom of the distribution bin. I reached my hand down into the bin and began extracting peel-away label strips, each with a QR code and the words U.S. POSTAGE $.60.
“What is this?” I gestured toward the man behind me. “These aren’t Christmas stamps!”
“That’s too bad, my friend. The machine must have run out.”
After stewing a bit, I reluctantly collected all fifty of my postage labels and decided I needed to talk with someone at one of the service windows. Unfortunately, of course, that would involve waiting in the line I had hoped to avoid. Again, I guess I had no choice.
Several minutes went by as I slowly made my way closer to the front. I could overhear an elderly woman at one of the windows discussing what a nice Thanksgiving she had with her grandchildren and how worried she was that the packages she was sending would not reach them by Christmas. The clerk went on to discuss with her the various types of postage she might consider paying for, along with tracking options and insurance coverages. She asked the clerk several times if he could repeat some of the options he had mentioned.
“At this rate, she’ll be lucky if they get there by New Year’s,” whispered the man standing in front of me. “Don’t worry. My poor ninety-three-year-old mother at home sent me to get her some stamps. That’s all I need. I promise I won’t take nearly as long.”
“No problem at all,” I said with a laugh. “I guess we’ve waited this long. Just tell me you’re not hoping to get Christmas stamps.”
“Fortunately, mom wasn’t specific, so I’m happy to get whatever they have.”
Suddenly, the woman at the counter was finished and the man moved ahead to take her place. “Have a Merry Christmas,” he said.
“The same to you.” I paused a moment. I looked down at my fifty postage strips with the QR code emblazoned on them. It reminded me of the Peanuts Christmas special when Charlie Brown was sent out to get a tree for the Christmas pageant and came back with the scrawniest tree on the lot. But in the end, they patched it up with some ornaments borrowed from Snoopy’s prize winning doghouse and it looked just fine.
“Sir, you’re next.”
I glanced up at the clerk. Here was my opportunity to vent my frustrations about how I had spent the better part of that morning waiting in line and still not getting the Christmas stamps the sign on the door had promised me.
“No thanks––I’m good.” I looked at him with a smile. “Have a Merry Christmas!”
“Thank you, sir. Same to you.”
I moved to the back of the post office in front of a wall of mailboxes where I found a table. From there, I began the long process of separating each of the postage strips, licking them, and carefully placing each one along the upper right side of all fifty of the envelopes. It suddenly occurred to me that alongside the QR codes of each of the postage strips was a vertical red line that actually matched very nicely with the rectangular red frame that encircled the addresses on each of the envelopes. Very Christmassy, I thought!
After placing the postage strips on each of the envelopes, I happily carried them across the lobby and inserted them into the outgoing mail slot of the post office and finally made my way home.
“Where have you been,” my wife called down from upstairs as I closed the front door behind me. “I was beginning to worry about you.”
“Just spending a couple of hours with some new friends at the post office.”
“Yeah, just some nice people who reminded me of what the season is truly about.”
“That’s nice, honey. But I should tell you, we received some more Christmas cards in the mail today from some people we didn’t have on our list. I would like to send some more cards out. You wouldn’t mind running out again and getting some more stamps would you, dear? … honey?”