Sunday, December 9, 2007

Sweet December

I don't remember her name.

She was young, blondish, a wife and mom, a schoolteacher. She was only one of the horde of customers who braved the post office last week. I'm a window clerk there, or a retail sales associate, depending on your correctness quotient, and I almost flinched when I saw her. My feet were already falling off, my smile at half-mast, and I didn't think I could say, "May I help you?" one more time without a mid-afternoon shot of caffeine to get me through. I didn't think I could face a customer with seven boxes, two of which were huge, all of which required clumsy customs labels. As luck would have it, though, I got her at my window.

The parcels were for her brother in Iraq, she said. She hoped the customs labels were okay. Her students had helped her fill them out. Helped her pack the boxes. It had become quite a project.

Seven boxes. Uh-huh. That was quite a project, all right. My back was starting to hurt.

Yes, the boxes were for her brother. And his friends. There were individual boxes inside the boxes that he was supposed to divide up. Wow, I said, how many of his friends are you sending to?

Thirteen, she said.

My eyes watered.

Except for these three, she went on, pointing to three smaller boxes. Those three were sent to three individual soldiers. Because they never got anything. They didn't have wives or moms or girlfriends, evidently, and she wanted them to have their own parcels this time.

My eyes overflowed and I sniffled. I'm sorry, I said. I'm a watering pot. Oh, me, too, she said.

We prepared the packages, putting on the customs forms and Priority Mail stickers and massive amounts of postage. My students said I must be rich, she said, to pay all this postage. I'm not, though; it's coming out of my kids' Christmas money. They're little, two months and five years, and they won't know it's a little on the slim side.

I blew my nose and I said, But they'll know when they're older, and they'll be so proud, because it's such a good thing you're doing and such a great thing you're teaching. They'll be proud to have been a part of it.

I gave her the postage total and took her check and wished her and her family a Merry Christmas. After she left, we re-weighed the parcels so that I could pay the oversize fee that had come up on the computer screen, the one I'd seen but she hadn't. But it didn't come up this time, and my big contribution ended up being 55 cents.

I thought over and over of three soldiers who never got any mail and who would get those three boxes, of the students who learned about loving and giving and addition and filling out forms, and of the pretty young teacher . The one I didn't want to wait on. The one whose name I can't recall.

But I'll never forget her.

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