Merry Christmas: Remembering my grandfather

I will always believe in Santa Claus, and with good reason.

My grandfather, Robert Gerald Brown, Sr. was Santa:

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This picture is of him, from his days as Santa Claus. Real Beard, Real belly, even the real rosy cheeks.
One year, he even went away during the Holiday season because he was  the Santa Claus at a big mall in the North East.
He was an amazing and a wonderful man.

Grandpa died of Cancer in 2002, just a few months after I got out of the military.
This week, he would have been 81 years old.

In my childhood, I thought he was a Vampire hunter: he owned a shop that made wooden stakes.

He was a Mason, a Shriner. And, from what I remember my mom telling me, a Boy Scout Master when my uncles were younger.
Perhaps the coolest thing about my Grandpa was that in his later years, he ran a business selling foods at carnivals.
It started out as a fundraiser for the Shriner’s hospital, selling ice cream at carnivals and fairs. But, it expanded.
Grandpa Claus sold ice cream, funnel cakes, bloomin’ onions, lemonade, an entire cavalcade of snacks and sweet foods at festivals. And he made sure that he included the entire Brown family in on the business.
Anyone who wanted to, he’d let work with him for a day, or for a week, or for a festival.
I say “wanted to” because working with Grandpa was fun family time for most of us. He enjoyed his work at the fairs, the looks people gave him when they saw Santa scooping Ice Cream or making a funnel cake. He was a reminder to kids at the County Fair to behave because Santa Claus was watching, even in the spring time.

I worked with him only one time, when I was 13,  I think. We drove two hours to Central Georgia for a craft fair. And that day he taught me two important lesson about  sales.
The first was to give things away. He gave away ice cream. He found a local police officer, the boy scout master, and a pair of teenage girls and gave them all a free cone, telling them all “The Shriners tell me I have to give away Ice Cream to on-duty cops/Boy Scout Masters/Girls who are wearing green”  (or some unique identifier about the person). It was his way of showing people, “Hey! Ice Cream! Come Buy some!”

The second was, whenever possible, be the only person selling your goods in a given place. He would only sell ice cream at a fair if there were no other ice cream vendors. The same went with other foods he sold.
And it worked.
Because no one wants ice cream until they see someone else eating a cone.

Grandpa was one of the most extroverted people I know. He could walk up to a complete stranger, and within minutes, strike up a conversation and talk like he’d known the person his whole life. He made friends with ease.

He also served in the military, and when I joined the service, he was very proud of me. To this day, I’m the only of his grand kids to do so (Unless one of my cousins has joined and I’m not aware of it).Christmas of 1984, I was 6 years old and in Kindergarten. That year, I had a doll, Kimberly, who was my child.  Kimberly went with me everywhere until she had an unfortunate incident where my baby sister ripped her head off and was sent to a dolly hospital to be repaired. In the meantime, I was scared, alone, and doll-less in my room.
So that Christmas, Grandpa gave me the one present I think I loved more than almost any other present I’ve ever received.

He bought me April Natasha Brooks: (She was born Cornelia Natasha, but that had to change. Yuck.)

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Taken Dec 23, 2013. I’ve had her 29 years.

That was the year that the Cabbage Patch dolls were the gift. the Hard gift to find, and all that. Grandpa told me he saw her at the store, and she begged to come home with him, so she could live with me. I fell in love with her at once.

April was not a replacement for Kimberly, she was a supplement, a friend for Kimberly when she came back from being repaired. And someone for Kimberly to play with.  I’ve long-lost Kimberly, but April I still cherish.

I don’t remember wanting one, or asking for one, but April was the present I needed, the toy I love and cherish even now into my *cough* repetitive late twenties.

And it happens every year. At some point in the holiday season– either his birthday (December 21), on Thanksgiving, the first Santa I see, or even when I watch a film, I’ll start to tear up and miss him a little bit. Just a bit.
This year, that was yesterday, when I watched Miracle on 34th street.

Why do I believe in Santa Claus? Why will I always Believe?
Because my Grandpa is  Santa.

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Black Friday is Evil.

Thanksgiving is just over a month away, which means that as of this writing, there are 39 days until Black Friday.  Black Friday, the “official start of the holiday shopping season” in the United States is a day that has tainted the souls of many a retail worker, myself included. The day is an unofficial American holiday.

I take my inspiration for writing this post from a Facebook Group: Say No to Shopping on Thanksgiving.no shopping

Or is it? There are some that might say that our nation, that worships and praises the ‘Almighty Dollar‘ holds Black Friday as a day of deep, cultural significance because that is the one day that the Almighty Dollar shifts hands most often within the entire year. If Christmas is the Holy Day for Christianity, then Black Friday is the Holy Day for Consumerism.

Every year, I turn on the news and hear a report of riots, people being stampeded to death at store openings, or some sort of violent injuries and deaths because of it. The last few years, when I worked at Wal*Mart, we had fights over the “last” items up for sale in some of our electronic or toy specials.

Now, I know I’m not going to change anything by writing this blog, but I thought I’d at least record my opinions and feelings.

As a retail employee, I dreaded and feared not only Black Friday, but Thanksgiving as well. Most every job I’ve had since I got out of the Military has been retail in some fashion: Food Service, Grocery Store, and actual retail stores, has required me work Not only Black Friday, which one would expect, but Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Christmas Eve. (The only exception was the year I was Student Teaching and the year I was unemployed.)

Yes, even the year I worked at a Karaoke Bar with my FATHER AS A BOSS I had to work on the holidays. And they were busy days too. (though we did our family meal at the Karaoke bar, and that was kinda cool, but we shared it with all the customers, having them pay for drinks only that day, unless they wanted menu food).
Now my memory might be wrong, but I remember stores being closed on Thanksgiving when I was small. I know places would open early on Friday, but Thanksgiving? No, that was a family day. My mom and dad stayed at home with us, and if we ventured out, Mom would take us to see our grandparents and extended family, while Dad would go visit his mother. (My father does not shop.) Family members who were in retail would be off to spend that day with our family.

We might have had a babysitter on Friday while Mom went shopping, but never had Thanksgiving taken away from us.

Flash forward to the Now:
Every Thanksgiving my in-laws have gotten together for the holidays, it is a flip of the coin if my work schedule would allow my husband and I to attend. My in-laws live an hour and a half a way on a low traffic day, on holidays? it is worse.One year, we got to my mother-in-law’s house to find everyone else had already had their food, and we had the scraps. Other years, we have to leave early so I can get to work, missing out on good family time. There are some of my in-laws that are only in town during holidays: my brother and sister-in-law live 6 hours away and I don’t get to see them often, just the holidays.

But, stores, and I think my former employer is one of the worst about it, are slowly starting their Black Friday sales early: as early as 6-8 PM on Thanksgiving day.
let me describe Black Friday from a retail employee standpoint (And remember, I suffer from anxiety  as well as fibromyalgia, so this is a particular rough day)

Last year, I worked from 6 PM to 3 AM Thanksgiving day to Black Friday morning, with a turnaround shift requiring me to return to the store at noon on Black Friday.
I stood at a register in electronics most of the shift, waiting for the 10 PM sale for the E-Reader of the Moment to launch. I had to wait there to watch the line and watch to make sure stuff wasn’t getting stolen from the displays and that people weren’t getting behind the register to steal my cameras, e-readers, and what ever.

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On Black Friday, items ordinarily sold in my department (electronics) sit throughout the store, scattered in places like the Garden Center or Produce; I knew where nothing was.

The store itself got BUSY after 6. Every customer who ever shopped at my store during the year was there; all at the same time. It was AWFUL. As a retail employee, I had a hard enough time keeping up with the customers on normal days, on Black Friday/Thanksgiving, I wanted to pull my hair out by the roots the entire night.
When I finally had time to go to lunch, one of my bosses tried to make me return to the sales floor. I was already late for lunch, and my health conditions get worse if I don’t eat when I am supposed to.
Plus, the phone wouldn’t stop ringing with people asking how many of our items we had.
Let me tell you something:

I HAVE NO IDEA!
The bosses don’t generally release that to the retail slaves, or at least mine didn’t.

Plus, the MESS. There is three times the normal returns/rejected items on Black Friday, and bosses still expect the stuff put away before the end of shift. And, three times the customers, so no time to do it. One year, my department had seven baskets full of electronics returns. SEVEN. I had a panic attack the last two Black Fridays.
Last year I doubled my anxiety pills, and still couldn’t make it.

Regular customers, who are not in the slightest bit obnoxious on normal days, come into the store and act like they caught a case of the crazies during holiday shopping.

But that was Retail. Thanksgiving as a server was just as much as a nightmare. You would think that people wouldn’t eat out on thanksgiving, but, NOPE! Apparently, Turkey day means that “I know I’m stuffed on real food, but I’m gonna go to my local Ihop and eat more before I go assault retail slaves and buy stuff.”

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It’s worse on Christmas. One year on Christmas, I worked at IHOP for a thirteen hour shift, THIRTEEN FREAKING HOURS and brought home less than $100 in tips. I was forbidden from leaving until my last table left the restaurant. “You leave, you don’t get the tip.” It was a 10 top, and they left me $3.
Oh, I got a lot of “thank you for being opens” but not any money.
My husband and I now go out for breakfast on Christmas, but we always leave at least a 50% tip to our server, even if she is the worst server in the world.

Some might say that when I got my jobs in retail/restaurants that I knew this sort of stuff was going to happen. No, I knew it would happen when I was in the Army. I understood it. In retail?
It caused me to hate the holidays. I have turned into this fella right here;
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This year, I’m unemployed. Will I go shopping on Thanksgiving?
No. I will not. Will I go out on Black Friday? Maybe, but not until the afternoon.