A couple of years ago, we heard about the Secret Santa movement--a movement that seems to be secret in itself. Secret Santas go to department stores around Christmas time and pay off the layaways that are still there. Dozens of people find themselves pleasantly surprised for Christmas when they receive a special call from the layaway department. No one ever knows who these Secret Santas are because, well, they are secret Santas. They work out a deal with the clerks at the layaway counters or with the store managers, pay off whatever number of packages, and then leave. I suppose the clerks may know their names unless they are paying for all those packages in cash. If the clerks know, though, they never say.
Donnie and I became intrigued with the Secret Santa movement a couple of years ago although we cannot be considered well off. In fact, we have to scrape dollars and sometimes even change together to get our last few meals of the month before our next paychecks arrive. (It is not that my job does not pay a decent salary; it does. The problem is that all of Shane's money and much of ours goes to keeping our $3M [so far] granddaughter, Nikolina [see sidebar], alive and smiling. One of only three OEIS Complex survivors in the world, she is now a plucky, happy four-year-old but requires close medical monitoring and special supplies. I will write an update soon.)
While we do not have the finances to be Secret Santas, lack of money has never stopped us. So, a couple of days before Christmas we go to our local Kmart, where we can use our Sears card, ask the layaway clerk to find a package with toys in it, and pay it off. (We figure that if there are toys, there are children, and, who knows, without those toys, Christmas might be rather barren. We also figure that if they have not been picked up by December 23, the parents are probably struggling financially and may not be able to come up with the remaining amount. After the store calls the recipient, we sneak out. It is crazy fun!
This year, though, a lady walked into the layaway department as we waiting for the one clerk to find a package for us. The second clerk waited on the newly arrived lady, who had paid about 2/3 of the cost of the layaway but was short of cash for Christmas food. She wanted to turn in the layaway and get what she had paid into it back so that she could feed her kids.
While the second clerk looked for her package, we talked to the lady. She told us she had five boys (well, there's a challenge), was a single mother, and had just been a little lavish in her desires for the kids for Christmas. Lavish? When the clerk brought out the package there were 1-2 gifts (a t-shirt and a toy or pajamas and a toy) for each boy, and there was a cookware set, obviously for everyone. All together it was more than what we had planned to spend, but it was Christmas, after all, and God is pretty good at refilling our coffers. So, we told the first clerk not to look anymore and explained to the lady what a Secret (un, Unsecret) Santa is.
The layaway clerks excitedly walked with us to the customer service desk, where all the items in the layaway package were turned back in, the lady reimbursed for what she had paid into the layaway, and then all the times were purchased on our Sears card. The customer service desks clerks got into the spirit of things, too, and it seemed like Christmas had arrived a couple of days early.
The lady, whose name we never learned (nor does she know ours), kept iterating her grateful surprise. It clearly seemed a bit unreal to her until it came time for her to leave the store with all her layaway items and more than enough cash in her pocket for holiday food. She gave both Donnie and me a big hug, then revealed that she had not planned to come by the store the evening of the 23d but was planning to come in on the morning of the 24th. She had been returning from work, really tired, really hoping to go home, when she felt so impelled to come to the store that she knew she had to make the extra stop but did not know why. I guess we can all figure out why!