Edgar Heard the Bells, All Right

xmas bells

by Erin Abernethy,
with apologies to Mr. Longfellow and Mr. Poe

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play.


Hear the loud alarum bells–
Brazen bells!
What a tale of terror, now their turbulency tells!


And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of Peace on earth, good will to men.


In the startled ear of night
How they scream out their affright!


I thought how as the day had come
The belfries of all Christendom
Had roll’d along th’ unbroken song
Of Peace on earth, good will to men.


Too much horrified to speak,
They can only shriek, shriek,
Out of tune
In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire


And in despair, I bow’d my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,


Oh, the bells, the bells, the bells!
What a tale their terror tells
Of Despair!


“For hate is strong and mocks the song,
Of Peace on earth, good will to men.”


How they clang, and crash, and roar!
What a horror they outpour


Then pealed the bells more loud and deep;
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;


And he dances, and he yells;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a Runic sort of rhyme


The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With Peace on earth, good will to men.”


Keeping time, time, time,
As he knells, knells, knells,
To the tolling of the bells
To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.


© Copyright 2004 by Erin Abernethy. Republished 2007, 2011, 2014, 2015.

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Winter Holiday Affective Disorder (WHAD)


by Patrick Redding & Rob Colfax

Memo to staff psychologists: please insert the following sheet into your copies of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). At this time of year, it is likely that you may see an increase in complaints of depression. Be aware of the diagnostic criteria for the specifier Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD) as well as this new category, Winter Holiday Affective Disorder (or WHAD).

Criteria for Winter Holiday Affective Disorder (WHAD):

At least five of the following symptoms have been present over the majority of a two-week period, and represent a change from previous functioning. At least one of the symptoms is either (1) Winter holiday-related complaints or (2) general lack of jolliness.

NOTE: Do not include symptoms that are clearly due to a general medical condition (for example, pregnancy) or delusions or hallucinations (for example, seeing dancing sugarplums during alcohol withdrawal).

1. Winter holiday-related complaints

2. Marked lack of jolliness and good will

3. Loss of interest in nearly all activities (do not include sitting in a stupor in front of the TV during football playoffs)

4. Significant weight gain or increase in appetite (especially cravings for “special” foods such as turkey, fudge, rum balls, etc.)

5. Insomnia (including sleeplessness due to carolers outside who just won’t shut up) or hypersomnia (including overdoses of tryptophan from excessive turkey consumption as well as repeated viewings of “Frosty the Snowman” reruns)

6. Psychomotor agitation (including twitching and “bite reflex” exhibited at the sight or sound of Salvation Army bell-ringers, but not including seizures due to those little chasing lights)

7. Repetitive vocalizations (such as “fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la” or “Ho ho ho!”)

8. Fatigue or loss of energy at the mention of weekend shopping at the mall

9. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt when unable to come up with “the perfect gift”

10. Discoloration of extremities (such as red nose – do not include redness due to excessive alcohol consumption from self-medication)

11. Paranoia, as evidenced by random vocalizations such as “He knows when you’re sleeping! He knows when you’re awake!”

12. Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, particularly when changing lanes in downtown traffic

13. Recurrent homicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a homicide attempt (including attacking the mall Santa with a picket from the fence around the “Santaland” display) or a specific plan for committing homicide (do not include shooting at the neighbor’s plastic rooftop reindeer)

14. Bizarre ideations (including, but not limited to, belief in elves, talking reindeer, and peace on earth)
Keep Calm and Hibernate

Statistics indicate that WHAD symptoms may be more apparent in individuals employed in retail occupations, but WHAD has been diagnosed over a widespread range of demographics.

In most cases, WHAD symptoms decrease significantly after 6-8 weeks, though flare-ups may continue until St. Patrick’s Day.

There is currently no treatment for WHAD, although symptoms may be alleviated by mild sedatives, antipsychotics, or a weekend in the Bahamas.

© Copyright 2003 by Patrick Redding & Rob Colfax. Republished 2007, 2011, 2014, 2015.

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Mama Earlene’s Christmas Letter from Shady Creek, Tennessee (2014)

Mama Earlene's Christmas Letters

by Patrick Redding

Merry Christmas, y’all! Well, I missed getting a letter out to y’all last year on account of having the swine flu from eating too much bacon. But this year has been pretty good to us and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

First off, my 27-year-old problem child Haley June seems to have finally got herself straightened out and has a good job for a change. Miracles do happen! Y’all know what she has been through the past several years with her divorce and then losing her job at the massage parlor when the place got raided. Then there was that mess last year with Social Services trying to take her young’uns, and me having to take them in. But things are finally starting to look up for her. She has finished school and got a degree online, with the help of Denver, her youngest (he is 9 now and a real whiz with computers), and we are all just so proud of her!

Now, some people around town have hinted that Denver might have hacked into the school computer to get her that degree, but I say they are just jealous that things are finally turning around for her. And Denver says that he would not do such a thing anyway, because the community college’s computer system is not enough of a challenge. So there you have it.

Anyway, Haley June is now a college graduate and started work at the Helping Hands Nursing Home. Mostly she is emptying bedpans right now. But with any job you have to “start at the bottom,” ha ha. Social Services says that if she does good there, her boys can go back and live with her after the first of the year. I will be sorry to see Denver and Cody go, but I am not getting any younger and it is hard for an old lady like me to keep up with kids their age, even if they do just stay on the computer all the time. They think I don’t know they look at pictures of naked women but I believe that’s better than having them running around the neighborhood and peeping in windows the way their daddy used to do.

Cody is still trying to finish second grade, by the way. He is 10 now. It took him three years to get through first grade, so if he keeps going this way, he will be old enough to drink and vote by the time he gets to high school. That ought to make him real popular with his classmates, I reckon.

Now, as for Haley June’s sisters, Sue Ellen says she and Larry are thinking about having another baby! I think she is out of her mind but there is no reason she should listen to me – after all, I’m only her mother. They already have six. Luke, their oldest, cannot seem to stay out of jail, bless his heart, he is just fascinated by setting things on fire. Maybe if Sue Ellen and Larry weren’t always running off to Niagara Falls or Hawaii to have fun, he might could have grown up to be a fireman or something. But far be it from me to criticize. After all, their other five have done OK. Well, Starla is behind at college because she spent awhile in rehab after she got all whacked out on one of those fancy new designer drugs. But she is getting better, and has met a friend or two in rehab. I hope they are good Christian girls; they are probably not, but I am praying for her anyway, even though she sasses me something awful when I tell her so.

The twins, Matt and Jonah, are both working at the new Wal-Mart. Mostly they stand around in the aisles and throw melons at one another, so we’ll see how long that lasts. The problem with those boys is that nobody ever told them they needed to get good grades or learn how to do anything but play high school football, and they are just not NFL material, no matter what Larry would like to believe. But at least they are working. Josh is a senior in high school this year and is in the Physics Club. He is a real smart one and I kind of worry that he and his friends might build a bomb, but he is anxious to go away to college so maybe we are safe, ha ha. Caleb, the baby, is 8. He started third grade this year and already has a girlfriend! Anyway, that seems like quite a handful to me, and I don’t think Sue Ellen needs to be popping out any more. If you agree, you might say something to her, as she has told me to butt out and mind my own business!

Haley June’s other sister Tina is still married to Harris, so her four kids have not run him off like I thought they might. He has hung in there despite them being a rowdy little bunch of hellraisers. They still go over and shoot pellet guns at Mavis Claymore’s plastic reindeer every year, and every year she calls and hollers at me about it. I tell her she ought to be calling their mama and adopted daddy, and she just tells me he is a pansy-ass lightweight, as if any of that is something I can fix. I would not be at all surprised if she starts shooting back at the little monsters. Harris’s sister Katie is also staying with them now; she looks after the boys in the afternoons while Tina is at work, and does all the cooking and cleaning and so on. I know Tina likes having somebody else around while Harris is out doing his plays and stuff at the college, and the two of them are just as thick as thieves. I just hope somebody in that house can get those little hellions under control so Mavis will stop calling me!

My brothers Cephus and Orly are still in jail for that business with the homemade guns. Cephus got another six months tacked on to his sentence when he got caught making moonshine in a wastebasket. Orly may get out next summer on good behavior if he doesn’t listen to his brother and stays out of trouble; he is a trustee now and works in the laundry. I told him it was about time he learned how to do his own wash. Maybe he will do mine for a change when he gets out, ha ha.

Grampaw Bobby and Grammaw Ida are doing pretty good, I reckon. Thanks to Denver, Grampaw Bobby was able to get hold of that Sterling Marlin shot glass he had been lacking to make the complete set for his Nascar collection. Denver found it for him on something called the E-Bay. I don’t know exactly what that is but I reckon it’s a big old flea market on the Internet or something.

Grammaw Ida had a scare back in the spring when she took a tumble on her back steps; she was letting her little Pekingese out to go potty and I reckon it must have had to go really bad because it just barreled right over her! She thought she might have broken her hip, but it turned out nothing was hurt too bad but her pride. After that she got herself one of those smarty phones to carry in her pocket for emergencies. Denver fixed it up for her and showed her how to use it, and then the dang little genius showed her she had the Internet on it and some kind of website about rescuing dogs. Now she’s got four of those yappy little boogers, so it’s a real good thing she and Grampaw Bobby live in separate houses!

Mama celebrated her 97th birthday this year, and as it was a slow news day, the man from the Channel 9 morning show came out and they tried to interview her but it did not go well. She pitched a fit and called him a little piss-ant and threw a beer mug at the camera man’s head. We took up a collection for him to pay for his stitches, and he agreed not to press charges or anything but the reporter fella got his nose all out of joint about her calling him an ugly name. I told him it was nothing against him, just that she has always said, “Don’t never trust a man wearin’ a toupée,” and he was, but I reckon he thought none of us hicks had the sense to know that. I don’t know if you have seen his show, but my stars, it looks like the man let a polecat curl up on top of his head for a nap! Anyway, Mama sends you all her love and says, “Early to bed and early to rise means you miss Jeopardy and have a bunch of damn fools on your TV in the morning.” Words of wisdom!

Anyways, that is how we are all doing here down in our little corner of the pea patch. Hope you and your’n have a real Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and as that little ol’ Tiny Tim said, “God help us ever one!”

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Mama Earlene’s Annual Christmas Letter from Shady Creek, Tennessee (2007)

by Patrick Redding

Merry Christmas, y’all! Well, it’s been another humdinger of a year here, so let me just bring y’all up to speed on the happenings in our neck of the woods. I had thought the biggest news of the year would be my daughter Tina’s wedding, but she and her new husband sort of took all the fun out of it when they just up and eloped (more on that later). As it turned out, we had bigger fish to fry when my brother Harvey tragically lost his life in a self-inflicted lawnmower accident.

My brothers are talking about opening up a gun and ammo shop. You can never go wrong investing in artillery. People will always want to buy guns and shoot things even when money is tight.

Yes, it is true that Harvey got run over by his own lawnmower. Those who knew Harvey well surely won’t be surprised that he could manage to do such a thing, but for those who only saw him acting like the big fool that he was at family reunions and so on, I will try to explain what happened. You see, he had gone over to mow Mavis Claymore’s big old yard in front of that new house she bought on County Road 141, and that is where he met his untimely end. Now, there have been some very unkind rumors going around, and I just want to set the record straight right now by saying that I do not believe for one minute those tales that Harvey died of a heart attack when poor old Mavis (bless her heart, she has Alzheimer’s, you know) wandered out into her front yard without a stitch of clothing on. I also do not believe those other stories I have heard that he slipped and fell while he was standing on the back of the mower trying to peep into her bathroom window. Those who knew Harvey know that he is just not that kind of man; if he wanted to get a look at Mavis in her birthday suit, he would have just come right out and asked her. But all those wild tales aside, here is what I have been able to piece together about what really happened to poor old Harvey.

In case y’all don’t live around here, let me explain that for years we have had a string of massage parlors along County Road 141. They are unsightly and encourage bad behavior, but they do employ a number of our local young folks who might otherwise be standing around on street corners and selling drugs they stole from their grandparents. I like to think that it is better to work with your hands for an honest living, and that if you do not have the necessary skills to run a cash register or bag groceries, then working in one of the massage parlors might provide you with a steady income and keep you off welfare. At least that is what I told my youngest daughter Haley June when it began to look like she was going to flunk out of night school. However, they passed some kind of law at a town council meeting back in the spring, and Sheriff Mack closed down a bunch of them massage parlors (putting 25 people in the unemployment line, but I reckon that don’t matter none to him) and it was while one of the deputies was in hot pursuit of one of the working girls that Harvey had his accident with the lawnmower.

It seems that the deputy had chased the young lady out of her place of employment at the Bee Hive before she had a chance to get her street clothes on, and Harvey (who always had a soft spot for a naked woman in distress, bless his heart) jumped off the lawnmower and rushed right over to give her the shirt off his own back. He was so eager to help the young lady that he forgot to set the brake on the lawnmower, and it just ran over him before he even knew what was going on. (The mortician told us he probably didn’t feel a thing, as drunk as he was.) So that is what happened, and I would discourage you all from repeating any of those tales we have heard people whispering around town. He was not sneaking out the back door of the beer joint and riding his lawnmower home in the hopes of avoiding another drunk driving charge like some people said. Nor was he out there at that cheap motel with a married woman like some other people said (Lynda Creedy is legally separated, not married, and besides, she was there with Bill Hicks, not our Harvey, at least not this time). To be perfectly honest, we all know that it was sheer coincidence that he was not up to no good when he got chopped into chicken feed by his own lawnmower, but he is gone now, and rather than speak ill of the dead we should all pray real hard that he has gone on to a better place, although I doubt it.

Besides Harvey getting killed, our family was dealt another blow when little Haley June lost her job at one of the aforementioned massage parlors. She had been trying to go to night school to get herself a good job and support her two kids instead of living off her ex-inlaws like she has done for the past year, but she was never good at taking tests (except the home pregnancy kind, ha ha) so she had dropped out and got herself a job at the Bee Hive, where she had pretty steady work until Sheriff Mack closed the place down. It is a shame when the law harasses people trying to make an honest living. Little Haley June is talking now about moving out to Las Vegas, where she says there are better opportunities for people in her line of work. I have always told her she should use her God-given talents to the fullest but I do hope she does not decide to go way out yonder to work. By the way, thanks to all of y’all who chipped in to bail her out of jail so that she could be home with her children instead of sitting in the lockup with the rest of those old drunks and floozies.

As for Haley June’s sisters, Tina got married this summer to that Harris man, the drama teacher over at the community college. We had wanted to have a big wedding down at the church for her and invite all of y’all to it, but she pitched a fit and said she did not want all that fuss so instead of a nice wedding and reception with her family and friends, she and Harris snuck off and done it in some government office and went to Tastee-Freeze for hot fudge cake afterwards. She did not even take time off from her job at the garage to go on a honeymoon, even though I offered to keep the kids for her if they wanted to go off somewhere romantic like Gatlinburg. But anyhow, we wish Tina and Harris all the best and hope that her four kids will not run him off.

Now as for Haley June’s other sister, Sue Ellen and her husband Larry took a trip to Niagara Falls this summer. Everybody else in the family has always gone to Dollywood for vacation, but Sue Ellen has acted like she is better than the rest of us ever since she graduated from secretarial school. She wanted to see Niagara Falls so Larry rented an RV and they drove up there for two weeks with four of their six kids. Starla had band camp and could not go, bless her heart, she loves her clarinet and can play a pretty fair tune on it although she is getting to be awfully high-strung being around all those other band kids, and we are afraid she may want to go to college and become a music major if Larry doesn’t put his foot down. Luke, their eldest boy, is still away in juvenile detention, so he did not get to go on vacation either, of course. We are hoping they may let him out soon since they say he has not tried to set any fires in about two months now.

My brothers Cephus and Orly have managed to stay out of jail again this year, which might be some kind of record for them, staying out two whole years in a row. They are talking about renting one of the buildings out on County Road 141 and setting up a gun and ammo shop. I told them that you can never go wrong investing in artillery, that people will always want to buy guns and shoot things even when money is tight. I do not know if they will have any trouble getting a license to sell guns since both of them have spent so much time in jail, but I would not want to discourage them from their hopes and dreams by mentioning it. Also, I am tired of them asking me for money and would welcome any gainful employment that they might be willing to do since they spent all last year hanging out in the garage and working on a car which still will not run.

Grampaw Bobby and Grammaw Ida are both in good health and good spirits. They get along a lot better since Grampaw Bobby moved into his own house with his collection of Nascar memorabilia. Grammaw Ida has him over for supper every evening, and on Fridays they drive into town together to get groceries and check out the flea market. Sometimes we even see his truck parked outside her house overnight, ha ha. She says she will not spend the night at his house because she does not care to wake up and see a life-size cardboard race car driver staring down at her.

Mama is still about the same, bless her heart. She celebrated her 90th birthday this year with a box of cigars that drove us all out of the house for a day or two, but most of the time she is pretty good about sticking to the light 100’s she switched to last year. She sends her love to all. I asked her if she had anything she wanted to add to our Christmas letter, and she said to tell y’all, “Light beer don’t go with chicken wings,” and, “Don’t never marry a man who trades cars more than once a year.”

Anyways, that is how we are all doing here down in our little corner of the pea patch. Hope you and your’n have a real Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and as that little ol’ Tiny Tim said, “God help us ever one.”

© Copyright 2007 by Patrick Redding. Republished 2011, 2014.

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Mama Earlene’s Annual Christmas Letter from Shady Creek, Tennessee (2006)

by Patrick Redding

Merry Christmas, y’all! Well, it’s been a humdinger of a year for us here, and let me just tell you all about it. Probably the best thing that happened all year was when Elmer, that old neighbor of ours over yonder side of the hill, up and died. Well, it wasn’t good he died, bless his heart, but since nary a one of his young’uns wanted to live there, they let us buy the place right cheap. It took a lot of fix-up on the house since the sheriff’s deputies left a lot of bullet holes when they raided old Elmer’s meth lab in the spare bedroom. But it’s amazing what a little spackle and duct tape did for the place, and with a few gallons of Lysol, you can’t hardly tell that old Elmer kept them coon dogs in the house. (The coon dogs didn’t come with the property, unfortunately. Sheriff Mack took them home with him after the drug raid, which, if you ask me, was the reason they come and raided his house in the first place. And poor old Elmer was only running that meth lab to supplement his Social Security, bless his heart. Sheriff Mack ought to be ashamed, harassing our good neighbor like that.)

With so many people getting divorced today, it is always nice when couples can resolve their differences and stay together, even if it means they got to live in separate houses.

So anyways, now that we got that extry house, Grampaw Bobby has been able to move out there and have more room for his Nascar collectibles which Grammaw Ida said she was going to divorce him for if he didn’t get them things out of her good china cabinet. With so many people getting divorced today, it is always nice when couples can resolve their differences and stay together, even if it means they got to live in separate houses. By the way, now that he has the extry space, Grampaw Bobby has almost got the full set of Nascar commemorative shot glasses. He only lacks a Dale Jr. and a Sterling Marlin to make a full set, so if you see one of them out at the flea market, pick it up for him and he will pay you back at the first of the month.

Speaking of divorces, we were all saddened this year when little Haley June had to leave her no-good cheating husband Drew after catching him in her very own trailer with that truck-stop cashier. They were divorced in August after eighteen blissful months of marriage. Since she burned down the trailer, she has moved in with Drew’s mama and daddy who want to be able to help with their grandbabies while Haley June goes back to school. If all goes well, she hopes to graduate in two years and be able to work in the hospitality industry. Drew’s daddy says if she don’t graduate, she can always work at that massage parlor out on County Road 141, ha ha. Haley June’s baby Cody is now two years old, and her other baby Denver is fourteen months. She is a little behind her other sisters but since she is just 19 and still a right pretty girl, she can probably catch up.

As for Haley June’s sisters, Sue Ellen had her baby this fall. They named him Caleb, and that makes six for her and her husband Larry. Their twins Matt and Jonah are on the junior high football team, and Starla is in the high school marching band. We did not know that Starla had any musical talent other than dancing in front of the picture window to some sort of “Dance Fever” record. We always thought she wasn’t right in the head, bless her heart, but now we know she is just a musician. Luke, their eldest, is still away in juvenile detention for that business about setting that school bus on fire, but they tell us his behavior has been a lot better since he has been away from home, so we are hoping they may let him out soon. Joshua is in sixth grade this year, and won his school spelling bee competition. They wanted to put one of them “My Child Is an Honor Student” bumper stickers on their truck, but they couldn’t get it to stick to the rust, ha ha.

Now as for Haley June’s other sister Tina, we are very pleased to announce that she has got engaged to a very nice man named Harris. We are not sure if that is his first or last name. We are just glad she is finally getting married so that her four kids will finally have a daddy and not grow up thinking they have to be like their mama, bless her heart. It is one thing to work in a garage when you are young and do not have children, or when you are a man of course, but I do not think grown women with children ought to be in a workplace where their children are allowed to play with grease guns. They will never learn to use real guns and shoot deer that way. We hope that this Harris man will straighten them out. Since he is a drama professor at that community college, we don’t have real high hopes, but maybe he will at least make them keep their clothes clean, and their uncle Harvey can teach them all about deer-hunting. Last week he took the boys out and let them shoot their pellet guns at the reindeers on people’s roofs, but they did not bring any home like they did last year, thank goodness. Mavis Claymore still gives me dirty looks in the grocery store because of that, but she ought to know that Harvey only shot her old white plastic reindeer to get her attention because he was sweet on her.

Speaking of Harvey, my brother had his big 5-0 birthday this year and celebrated with a real rowdy wing-ding at that beer joint out on County Road 141. As y’all may know, the beer joint had to close down on account of the damages from the free-for-all that broke out over the wrasslin’ match on the big-screen TV. If you ask me, having a TV in a bar is just asking for trouble, because any fool knows that when you get people all liquored up and give them a good wrasslin’ match to argue over, things are liable to get busted up. This is why I do not allow drinking in our house, only down in the basement where there is nothing they can break, except their necks trying to climb up the stairs, ha ha. Anyways, there is a donation fund to raise money for repairs, so if you have any money to spare, please send them a contribution and maybe they will not sue Harvey (who has no money to speak of after his wife ran off with it year before last).

My other brothers Cephus and Orly have managed to stay out of jail all year this year. They have been busy working on that car, which they say they are going to race at Bristol in the spring. I think they are full of you-know-what, but if it is keeping them out of jail, then that is fine by me. By the way, Cephus says to tell Reverend Carlton that it was not him who stole the muffler off his Ford pickup while it was parked outside the church, and that it is not very Christian of you to accuse him like that. Cephus said those blisters on his hands came from putting a meatloaf sandwich into the toaster oven at the Deli-Go gas station, and that it was not from sneaking under your truck and grabbing hold of the muffler while it was still hot.

Mama is still about the same, bless her heart. The doctors tell her she would live a lot longer if she would stop smoking, but she is eighty-nine now so that argument don’t cut too much ice with her anymore. She has switched to smoking light 100’s though, and now she can get all the way from the kitchen to the back steps without sitting down to wheeze. She sends her love. I asked her if she had any special words of wisdom to pass along to y’all since she is about to hit 90 and has had a long and full life. She said to tell y’all, “Possum tastes better with a little barbecue sauce,” and, “Don’t never marry the same man more than twice.”

Anyways, that is how we are all doing here down in our neck of the woods. Hope you and your’n have a real Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and as that little ol’ Tiny Tim said, “God help us ever one.”

© Copyright 2006 Patrick Redding. Republished 2007, 2011, 2014.

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A Plea on Behalf of Seasonal Workers


by Rob Colfax

You know what time of year it is. The commercials have been on TV since before Halloween, prodding you to go out and buy gifts. Now. Buy gifts, or your family, your friends, your significant other will take you for an thoughtless, unloving cheapskate.

And it’s not enough to just buy gifts. They need to be perfect. Stakes are high. Choose the right gift and win your sweetheart’s undying love. Implied, of course, is the idea that if you buy the wrong diamond or fail to secure the latest iGadget, your lover will see you for the loser you’ve always feared you might be. You will be scorned and abandoned as your erstwhile soulmate runs off to New Zealand to settle down and raise goats with a guitarist named Finn.

It’s understandable that you’ll be stressed when you venture out to the shops or the mall and begin to hunt and gather the presents.

But please: don’t take it out on the help.

Most stores employ at least one or two extra people during this time of year. You may find them slow, unhelpful and frustrating. Try to remember that they are probably just as frustrated as you are.

10 Reasons to Be Kind to the Sales Staff

1. Most seasonal staff don’t get the training or support that regular staff receive. Even regular employees often don’t get the training they need to be as helpful as you – or they – would like. Sometimes the training they do receive has to be done on their own time (i.e., they’ll never be paid for it).

2. Entry-level retail workers typically start at $7-$8 an hour before taxes. Commissions, you say? You think they make commissions on top of their base pay? Some may, but it’s probably not as much as you think. It may be 25 cents on the $100 item you’re thinking of purchasing. Or it may be conditional upon your agreement to purchase the extended warranty they’re embarrassed to ask you to buy (so no extended warranty = no commission).Losing Focus

3. They probably had to spend the equivalent of their first paycheck just to buy suitable clothes to meet the company dress code requirements.

4. They probably haven’t had a break since they came on shift. Yes, employment laws mandate regular break and lunch periods for workers. It’s a nice idea in theory but practice is often very different. When things are busy and a store is understaffed, breaks very often just don’t happen.

5. If they do get a lunch break, it’s often not possible to economize by packing a lunch to bring along (no break room, no refrigerator or microwave in many retail workplaces) which means they’re spending an hour’s worth of their pay on lunch. If they get a lunch break.

6. Often, they’re given the same ridiculous sales goals and quotas to meet as the rest of the staff, even though they’ve had no training on how to meet them and won’t be rewarded with a raise, bonus or continued employment should they somehow manage to do so. They will, however, be badgered, harassed, belittled and yelled at just like the rest of the staff if they fail to meet their goals. If you think a boot camp drill sergeant is tough, you should hear the abuse a district manager is capable of toward sales clerks who aren’t ringing up enough gift cards (or whatever the “focus” item is that week).

7. It’s highly unlikely they’ll get any days off between now and Christmas to do their own holiday shopping. Or grocery shopping, for that matter. Or laundry. For the next several weeks, they’ll be living in the same pair of khakis and subsisting on fast food, vending machine crackers, or broken candy canes from the damaged bin.

8. If they call in sick (even if they have the most contagious flu and are under doctor’s orders to stay home for a couple of days), more than likely they’ll be told not to bother coming back to work. The same applies if they have a death in the family.

9. They’re spending 8-12 weeks working in an environment where, no matter how well they do or how much their coworkers appreciate their help, they’ll be out of work again come January. A few years ago, one major retailer even shocked their associates by firing all seasonal help on Christmas Eve. (This company has since gone bankrupt and closed. Clearly the money saved on a a few days’ cheap salaries wasn’t really worth it.)

10. Most seasonal employees don’t do this type of work regularly, for good reason. DepressedMany are students, artists, writers, people who are already working another job. They’re often not “people persons,” and may be overwhelmed by all the chaos of the season. They’re stressed and exhausted. Just like you.

By now, you may be wondering if there’s any way to make this season of crass consumerism less painless for yourself. And the people in the shops who are trying to help you, of course. I’m glad you asked.

10 Tips for Less Stressful Shopping

1. Cultivate patience. If you need to ask questions of the staff, try to understand if they don’t know all the answers. Better yet, instead of going in and asking the people in the shops a dozen questions so you can then go home and buy your gift online, reverse the process: do your research online before you go shopping. Use your smartphone in the store to get information. There are much faster and less nerve-wracking ways to find out what you want to know than standing in line to grill an overworked sales associate.

2. Shop during off-peak times, if your schedule allows it. It’s less crowded, you’ll feel less stressed, and sales staff will have more time and energy to give you their attention when you need it. You’re also less likely to buy things you’ll regret later.

3. Don’t take the kids. I don’t care how much you love your children, kidsit’s much more stressful for you and everyone else (including the kids) if you take them with you. It’s too easy for them to get excited and overstimulated by all the hoopla, and too hard for you to concentrate when you’re trying to make sure they don’t break anything or get carried off by a stranger in the next aisle. Find a sitter.

4. Limit your phone conversations to your car. When you’re on the phone, your attention isn’t on your cart or your wallet. Not only are you holding up the line and being a huge annoyance to anyone within earshot, you’re a prime target for thieves.

5. Make a list. While some gifts require looking around to see what catches your eye, you’re much more likely to make bad decisions when you’re in a noisy, crowded store. Make your choices when you have some time to think, write them down, and stick to your list once you get out. This may mean that you order some things online, and that’s even less stressful; just be sure to allow enough time for shipping.

6. Let the little things go. It’s easy to become fixated on some minor inconvenience or problem when everyone’s stressed, but do your best to take a deep breath and let things go if it’s not a matter of life or death. Christmas gifts are rarely a matter of life or death. If for some reason you absolutely, positively feel you must complain about something, don’t take it out on the person who’s ringing you up. The cashier has no control over how many LEGO sets are on the shelf. Sometimes it’s just nobody’s fault, no matter how much you’d like to yell at someone.

7. Learn to accept that mistakes will be made. Anticipate it and allow room to work around it. Try to remember that a mistake isn’t a personal vendetta against you. You make mistakes too.

8. If you feel you absolutely must complain, wait until you get home to do it. You’ll sound like a much more rational person once you’ve cooled down for a few minutes, and customer service reps are much more likely to be helpful if you aren’t ranting and raving. If you have a receipt, there’s usually a number or website where you can contact someone who can actually address the issue; if you don’t have a receipt, look up the company online. You might even find that complaining doesn’t seem as necessary once you’ve gone home and had a bite to eat.

9. Be kind. Be generous. Donate to your favorite charity; it really will make you feel a little better in addition to supporting a cause you believe in. Perhaps you can even get family, friends or coworkers involved. Imagine a holiday where, rather than feeling pressured to get one another the perfect gift, you all agreed to give to a worthy charity instead.

10. Remember: everyone is doing the best they can do at any given time.

It’s that time of year again. If you venture out to the shops or the malls, be safe.

Be patient.

More importantly, be kind.


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Mama Earlene’s Christmas Letter from Shady Creek, Tennessee (2012)

Merry Christmas, y’all! Well, I have not got to put out a letter in a few years now, but it’s not for lack of things to tell you about. I have just been busier than a one-armed wallpaper hanger, what with trying to raise my daughter Haley June’s younguns and take care of my 95-year-old mama at the same time. So much has happened that I don’t rightly know where to start, so it is probably best I just jump right in anywhere.

I will start with Cody and Denver, my two adorable grandsons who are now living with me. Cody is 8 years old now and he is already a looker, all blue eyes and blond curls. I am trying to figure out how to put his picture on FaceSpace or whatever that thing is, but I am computer illiterate, ha ha. We would not have one in the house if it wasn’t for Cody’s teacher saying he needed some extra help. He is only on his third time around with the first grade, so I don’t know why she has her panties in such a wad. None of my younguns got through first grade in one year. Cody’s mama, Haley June, had to repeat kindergarten if I remember right. They are not much for book-learning but I like to think they’ve got common sense, which is more important in life than how to confiscate a verb.

Denver is 7 years old and in the same class as Cody, so he can help him out with his homework. He is smart as a whip. We don’t know where he got that from, surely not from anybody on our side of the family, ha ha. Anyway, he is real good with the computer and electronics kind of stuff. You should see how he has our TV rigged up. We get channels on it now with people speaking languages that I have never heard of. Denver says it is the BBC and that they are speaking English but it is surely not any English I recognize.

Now, I know that if you don’t live around here, you might be wondering how I came to be raising my two grandsons. Everybody in town knows about what happened a couple of years ago with their mama, my youngest daughter, Haley June, but for the benefit of those who don’t know, I will just hit the highlights here. I do not want to get into the whole sordid story. The long and short of it is that Haley June’s last boyfriend got in trouble with the law by trying to shoplift a steer at the stock market and claimed it was her idea. We all know that is not so, because as dumb as that idea was, Haley June is not smart enough to come up with it. Anyway, Social Services was going to put my sweet grandbabies in a foster home with Dr. and Mrs. Mukherjee, so I said I would take them myself. Nothing personal against the Mukherjees but I did not think my grandbabies would get the full benefit of their family heritage if they went and lived with a doctor who ain’t lived around here but a year. I just cannot see Dr. M. taking them to Bristol to see the Nascar races or encouraging them to participate in the Civil War re-enactments, which is an important part of our southern culture. His wife does not even know how to make cornbread or gravy, and neither one of them has ever heard of the Galax Fiddler’s Convention.

I hate to say this but it has just been all downhill for Haley June ever since she lost her job at that massage parlor. I have just about give up on her but I do wish y’all would say a prayer for her that she will straighten herself out soon. Miracles do happen, I reckon, although I have not seen any around here lately.

As for Haley June’s sisters, Tina is still married to that Harris man but after five years they still have not had any kids together. She says he cannot have any, and got real peeved when I said that he was probably still under warranty and she ought to take him back for a refund. He has adopted her four younguns that she already had so I guess we are stuck with him now for better or worse, ha ha.

Now as for Haley June’s other sister, Sue Ellen and her husband Larry took a trip to Hawaii this summer. Dollywood was always good enough for everybody else, but y’all know how Sue Ellen tends to get above her raising, so off they went. They said it was a “second honeymoon” and did not take the kids with them this year. Their daughter Starla is in her second year at that college up north and does not ever come home, bless her heart, she studies so hard. Cody said he saw a picture of her on FaceSpace and that she had blue hair and an earring in her nose and was playing in a music band of some sort but I am sure it was not Starla. She is too busy studying and would not have time for that sort of thing, and I know she would not color her hair blue, as she is such a pretty girl. As for the rest of the kids, Sue Ellen and Larry’s boy Luke got out of juvenile detention when he turned 18 last year but he was barely home a month when he went and set fire to that old drive-in movie theater out on County Road 141. He is in jail, and they do not like to talk about it, of course. Their other four boys are doing well in school, and Sue Ellen is not shy about showing off their report cards and bragging on them like that is supposed to make us all forget that she has raised a firebug.

My brothers Cephus and Orly are both back in jail too, so maybe they can have a family reunion with Luke, ha ha. Cephus got caught selling stolen bibles (I ask you, who in his right mind would think that was a good idea?) and then it turned out the bibles were just a front for them to sell their homemade handguns. They were just so disappointed that they could not get a permit to open their little gun & ammo shop they had their hearts set on, that they started making their own guns out of used car parts. As it turns out, that is apparently against the law. I do not know how the government expects anyone to make a living these days, persecuting hard-working people the way they do. It is not easy to make a handgun out of used car parts, I’ll bet. It is a shame that ingenuity like that is not rewarded these days.

Grampaw Bobby and Grammaw Ida are both still in pretty good health and good spirits. They are still living in their separate houses, and Grampaw Bobby has so many Nascar collectibles now, you can hardly walk through the front room. For Christmas he has decorated a lifesize cardboard cutout of Dale Earnhardt, Sr., with tinsel and lights, and you can see it in the picture window as you pass by. Grammaw Ida is tickled to death that she does not have to eat her morning oatmeal out of Jeff Gordon bowls anymore, and Grampaw Bobby is pretty happy he does not have to share the bed with Grammaw’s little Pekingese.

Mama has had walking pneumonia twice, bless her heart. She celebrated her 95th birthday with a cake and party at the pool hall because that is the only place in town where you can still smoke indoors. She sends her love to all. I asked her if she had anything she wanted to add to our Christmas letter, and she said to tell y’all, “Chicken livers go to the bad if you leave ’em out more’n a day or two,” and, “Don’t trust a man who tries to hug you when you shake hands, he is prob’ly a politician of some sort.” I don’t ask her what it means, I just write it down like she says it.

Anyways, that is how we are all doing here down in our little corner of the pea patch. Hope you and your’n have a real Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and as that little ol’ Tiny Tim said, “God help us ever one.”

© Copyright 2012 Patrick Redding

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