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Deep in December

IT was a scant week until Christmas, and somehow I couldn't get into the holiday spirit. Commercialism seemed rampant, shopping was difficult, I hadn't found time to address my cards, and now I faced a mob at the supermarket while I shopped for the party I was to give the next day. As I wedged my cart through the crowded aisles, it occurred to me that being a supermarket employee on days like this must be a miserable task. After a long wait in line I reached the checkout counter. A cheerful young man rang up my purchases, and a high school boy put them into large sacks.

``Have you been upstairs yet?'' the boy asked the checker, who had not. ``You should see the spread they've got. All kinds of good stuff! And here I thought I'd be having the usual hamburger across the street.'' A holiday party apparently had been prepared for store employees to enjoy during their breaks.

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``It's really fun working here during the holidays,'' responded the checker.

Obviously the swarm of pre-Christmas shoppers posed no problem for these two. Somehow that seemed to lighten my mood a little as I left the store with my collapsible cart full of groceries.

The snarled traffic in the parking lot made me glad I was on foot. As I wheeled my cart around the last automobile in line, the driver gave me a big smile. Surprised, I smiled back. It occurred to me that, had I been at the end of a long line of cars as he was, I probably wouldn't have thought there was much to smile about. But the driver's friendly expression was contagious, and I moved down the street with traces of a smile still on my face.

Waiting at the corner to cross the street, I heard the bells from a nearby church begin to chime out the notes of a familiar carol. An elderly woman also waiting to cross caught my eye. ``I never get tired of hearing Christmas music,'' she said. ``Neither do I,'' I responded.

I crossed the street and headed down the hill toward my apartment. This block had a row of small trees about five feet tall. The church bells continued, but now I heard an even lovelier sound. The little trees were filled with a throng of small brown birds that were making a wonderful cheeping -- not a song, just a kind of friendly chattering. From across the street came the answering chatter of another swarm of the small brown fellows, which filled trees and bushes in the opposite garden.

Suddenly I was reminded of a favorite line of poetry: ``I heard a bird sing, deep in December ... A magical thing, and sweet to remember.''

And indeed, a magical thing seemed to have happened. I had gone to the market for groceries and had come away with the Christmas spirit. The irritations, frustrations, and holiday hysteria melted away, and I was left with the warm feeling of excitement and wonder that makes Christmas so special.

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As I approached my apartment building, a neighbor sang out from across the street, ``Hi -- Have a Merry Christmas!''

``I'm sure I will,'' I responded, as I returned her greeting.

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