One Thursday in December (2000), Jonah, my then three year old grandson, and I were hanging out in what was then the Thompson Park Mall in Kamloops. We were refugees from the toxic fumes of a bath tub being re coated. What a time of year to do it! It was freezing cold outside and stinky and cold inside due to having windows open etc. Jonah has bad allergies and grandma wasn't doing so well either!
So off to the mall we went, pushing Jonah in his stroller, braving the shoppers and crowded aisles at Sears. After we got tired of Sears we decided to go to the lower floor to have a turn on a kiddy ride. As usual Jonah stretched as high as he could to reach the button of the elevator, a very important part of our mall ritual. When we arrived downstairs we cruised along the passageway with Jonah saying "Merry Christmas" to selected individuals, receiving delighted Merry Christmases! in response.
When we reached the rides I carefully searched my pocket for change knowing I had come away in a hurry with virtually no money in pocket or purse. Sure enough, I had enough money for a couple of rides with maybe a tiny bit over. We had our two rides and great fun, but even more, the location of the rides gave a vantage point from which we could see much activity in an empty store location across the way. Some adults in that place were wearing what I call deely boppers, little head sets with antennas on which were perched lit up Santa’s or snow men. These items claimed little Jonah's full attention! Grandma, where did they get those from?! Could we get one?'! We immediately crossed the hall and approached a tall man wearing lit up snow men; could he tell us where to get them? He wasn't sure, maybe try the dollar store.
I told Jonah that we had one more thing to do downstairs and then we'd go back up and try the dollar store. Meanwhile I'm doing some mental calculation, my next and last stop downstairs would require at least a $2.00 coin, a Toonie, would there be enough left over for this great prize even if the Dollar Store did indeed have them? I already knew that the dollar store didn't take plastic!
We proceeded down the mall to that last stop downstairs, it was to the Hospice Christmas Tree, a destination of mine for the twelfth Christmas since 1988 when our dear son Kenneth was taken from us, tragically drowned at age 23. Jonah stretched up again and dropped our last Toonie into the donation box; a few coins remained in my pocket. I wrote Kenneth’s name in the Memory book. Jonah helped me exchange a white Christmas tree bulb for a red one and hang a tag with Kenneth's name on the tree.
Having done that we went down the hall to the elevator, Jonah, happily anticipating his trip to the Dollar Store, was dispensing Christmas greetings on the way, while I was partly with him and partly thinking of another Christmas of missing Kenneth and trying to keep the spirit in spite of what is sometimes overwhelming sadness. Eventually we arrived at the elevator and ascended to the main floor. Once again strolling along to our destination. We passed Santa this time, Jonah only wanted to say hello, no pictures thank you, even though I knew Santa took plastic! Santa said, "you don't have to sit for a picture, Santa will talk to you anytime, come again and chat!"
As I was going along thinking about how I would obtain some cash should we find the hoped for deely boppers,@ we ran into a friend and stopped to say hello. While we were exchanging greetings a young lady approached us. In her extended hand was a shiny Toonie. She spoke softly," My grandfather would like to give this to the little boy." I looked up and nearby stood a very old gentleman, leaning heavily on a shopping cart. He looked very ill and frail. We went over to him to say thank you, he had trouble breathing and speaking. He looked at me the longest and most compelling of looks. It seemed almost as though he saw inside me, or was telling me something without words. It was an uncanny moment. Jonah said his thank you’s very quietly and seemed to sense that something out of the ordinary was happening.
We took our leave from the kindly old man and went on our way. I was so preoccupied with the encounter that we went past the Dollar Store and had to go back. We made our way into the store with our shiny Toonie clutched tightly in Jonah’s little hand and we looked all around for our special treat. We focused on the wall display of Christmas novelties and almost missed them. There they were, just a few were left! We had reached our goal at last! There were Santa's and Snow men!
They were $1.95. Jonah had the Toonie from his unexpected benefactor and Grandma had just enough loose change to pay the tax and buy the batteries! What to choose, what to choose. "Snow Men? No, the Santa’s!" Jonah paid and we were on our way once again.
Outside the store we sat on a bench while Grandma fumbled with the headset trying to install the batteries. The nice man from the dollar store came out and helped. Hooray, mission accomplished! The light up Santa's were in place on Jonah’s tawny curls, bobbing and shining for all to see, and they did see! Smiles and comments galore all down the Mall as we headed to meet Poppa. who was coming to drive us home. Jonah even had to stop and impress Santa himself. What a triumphal procession we had, Jonah, eyes sparkling, head nodding, royally receiving his due as a cherubic dispenser of cheer and good will.
Poppa was duly impressed as he loaded us into the car and Jonah showed off his shining head gear as we related the story of the wonderful gift of the Toonie. Just as we settled in our seats for the drive to Jonah's house the car radio caught my attention and I turned up the volume. The group Alabama was singing a song, "I believe there are Angels among us". The story of the song was of a little boy going home from school when he became lost in the woods and was very afraid, an old man suddenly appeared, like an answer to a prayer and guided him home. When the boy realized his mother couldn't see the old man he knew he'd been rescued by an angel. And the song went on, “I believe there are Angels among us sent from up above to guide us in our darkest hours” and “they wear so many faces; show up in the strangest places.”
It was then that the impact of the whole adventure washed through me and my tears could not be stopped. That miraculous Toonie was just the wrapping for the real gifts from our angel in disguise; to a small boy he gave joy, to me he gave peace and hope.
I believe there are Angels among us, some sent to tell us that life is still good and that there are still Christmas miracles if we can just open our eyes and hearts to see. Miracles can even happen in the mall. Angels don't discriminate between malls and churches. Where there is a need to redeem the true Gift of Christmas every place is Holy ground.
About the Author
Arleen is a bereaved parent whose son, Kenneth Bruce Simmonds, drowned while fishing off the shore of the Thompson River near Kamloops, B.C. Canada. She has been involved in a co-leadership capacity with her local chapter of The Compassionate Friends since 1989 and has been the editor of their chapter's newsletter since 1991. She has written many poems and short articles for several wonderful publications.
She and her husband, Roy, have been married for sixty years. They have two surviving sons, a daughter, 4 grandsons and a great-grandson.