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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Brown (11/26/09)

TITLE: Stalled Shopping Cart in the Baking Aisle
By Jan Ackerson


My shopping cart is filled with holiday purchases, but there are still scads of items to be crossed off my list. It’s a bizarre list, because my inner Martha Stewart has clawed her way to the surface, demanding to make holiday decorations now. So I’m looking for felt, raffia, burlap, pine cones—I’m going for that homey, cozy look. It amuses me that I’m willing to pay for pine cones, and briefly I wonder if there’s any kickback for the trees.

It’s definitely time to regroup. I decide to check out and take the haul to my van, perhaps recharge for a moment with something heavily caffeinated or sugared—or both—before tackling Christmas List: The Sequel.

Betty the Cashier is wearing absurd earrings: tawny reindeer from which little red-ribboned jingle bells dangle, with tiny candy canes suspended from the bells. Hey, earring manufacturer, why stop there? Why not add Santa to the chain, and a wreath, a snowman, and a stocking? Unfortunately, all of Betty’s holiday cheer seems to reside in her insanely festive earrings. I chirp “Merry Christmas” at her, and all she can manage in return is a muffled hmmmpf.

I add a cold bottled coffee drink and a chocolate bar to the conveyor belt and then head out to the parking lot, mentally mapping out the best strategy for Conquering Christmas—Part Two. A car follows me, hoping to score my premium parking space. Sorry, Charlie. I have not yet begun to shop. Back away from the van, and no one gets hurt.

When I’m almost to the van, my eyes are drawn to a heap of discarded clothing piled against a dumpster—I can make out an old leather jacket, desert camo trousers, tattered work boots, and a brown knitted watch cap. Could be that I’ve been spending too much time with decorating magazines lately, for the phrase monochromatic palette flits across my mind. Then the watch cap moves, and I realize that the brown heap is a man.

In no mood to deal with a potential panhandler, I avoid eye contact and quickly toss my fourteen bags into the open hatch of the van. The coffee and chocolate will have to wait. Darnitall. I don’t want him knocking at my window, making me feel guilty while I indulge. Locking the van, I return to shopper’s paradise.

Back inside, once more my cart fills up with holiday goodies. With every purchase, my mental cash register goes ka-ching. In a small and undecorated corner of my mind, I wonder how Brown Guy in the parking lot will celebrate Christmas.

The Baby in the manger starts to cry.

I’ve made my way to the grocery section of the SuperStore, and I bring my cart to a dead halt in the baking aisle, with gingerbread mixes to my left and bulk walnuts to my right. Just as it’s unsafe to talk on the cell phone while driving, I’m not so great at spiritual dialogue while shopping. Better to create a bottleneck at Cakes and Muffins.

Seriously? You’re kidding, right? I’m really not good at this sort of thing. I never know what to say. He’ll probably just take the money and spend it on drugs, you know. Well, maybe he’ll be gone when I go back out there.

With an invisible finger at my back, I go through checkout again. Betty is still in a grump, and even my tentative “Ho ho ho?” fails to crack her Scrooge-like façade.

At first, I don’t see Brown Guy in the parking lot, and as I toss the second round of bags into the van, my heart leaps at the thought of avoiding this particular holiday encounter. But then there he is behind me, speaking in a soft voice. “A dollar for sumpin’ to eat, ma’am?”

I turn to look at him. He could be any race—his skin, hair, and eyes are all the same shade of pale, muddy brown, completing his coordinated, monochromatic look. I clear my throat and fumble in my purse.

“A dollar won’t buy you much. Here’s ten. Uh, Merry Christmas. And, um, Jesuslovesyou.” That last bit is mumbled, my eyes studying the pavement beneath my sneakers. I kick my own backside. Worst. Witnessing. Ever.

Brown Guy accepts the bill almost reverently. “Yes, ma’am, He do. He surely do.” He grins—a toothless benediction—and this encounter becomes a holy moment. “Jesus love you too, ma’am.”

The Baby in the manger sleeps in heavenly peace.

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This article has been read 1923 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Chely Roach12/03/09
It's probably not fair to say this since I've only read two stories, but this is my favorite for the week! The voice was so witty, sometimes sarcastic,and authentic feeling. The witnessing near the end paragraph was oh-so-perfect. Seriously, I loved it.
Jean Beier12/04/09
This is not just good, it is also very timely. Sometimes we don't like God's requests of us, but He is always right on. Merry Christmas!
Virgil Youngblood 12/07/09
Did the MC have a WWJD bracelet on? Thanks for a timely well written reminder.
Connie Dixon12/07/09
I enjoyed this. Just when it seems we are the "worst witness ever", God uses us to bring glory to Him. And I like the fact that when he asks for a dollar, your mc gives him 10 times that. I think God would be pleased. Good job!
Rachel Phelps12/07/09
Beth LaBuff 12/07/09
This is excellent, from "Brown Guy" to the imagined responses from the baby in the manger. Your title is perfect. You have so much depth in this wonderful story. Love it!
larry troxell 12/08/09
how many of us find ourselves avoiding those we should be ministering to? loved how you used so many words that were brown without using the word.
Barbara Lynn Culler12/08/09
This reminded me of Erma Bombeck's writings.Loved the referral to the Inner Martha Stewart!

The pile of clothing that was human was very touching. I have experienced the giving when the recepient is ever so grateful, and it was so little on my part.

Great message.

Verna Cole Mitchell 12/08/09
An extraordinary story is one that lingers in your mind. This one will definitely linger. It is real.
Sarah Elisabeth 12/08/09
awww, what a wonderful Christmas story with a little humor sprinkled in.

I think just about everyone can relate to your MC. I did. It reminded me of dropping off our church's collection to the local food bank...and encountering a very grateful couple, making me stutter and kick myself when I got back in the car.

Thanks for the human touch as always...and it was so cool we both had a "Brownie" in our stories! ;-)
Marita Vandertogt12/08/09
I like the way you bring the baby in the manger into it - crying, then sleeping as a result of the mc's actions. Thanks for the reminder to be "called to action" this season. God bless.
Kimberly Russell12/08/09
I'm thinking that your MC and Miranda DailyLife could be friends: they kind of have the same sense of humor.
Loved it!
Henry Clemmons12/08/09
Oh, very good! I was so glad to get to the twist at the end. Witnessing is clumbsy for me too and I've had the same arguments, but you just know you have to. Excellent writing, great rythm, descriptions, poetic, right-on characterization, use of language, AND annointed. The ending moved me. Thank you.
Edmond Ng 12/08/09
A very interesting read especially for this time of the year. I like the way you contrast between the rich and the poor, and between "the Baby in the manger starts to cry" and "the Baby in the manger sleeps in heavenly peace." Your story puts across the message of what it means by the spirit of Christmas. It's about giving and receiving, about the birth of Christ and God's love for mankind that He gave His only begotten Son.
Colin Nielsen12/08/09
Liked it. At first I got a little bored with the self absorption of the Main Character. Read just like real life and real life to me is boring. When I read something I want to feel something. When you introduced the brown guy, the story picked up and became very interesting. So to me you nailed the ending, but the start was very slow.
Jim McWhinnie 12/09/09
Beautiful craftsmanship resulting in a very touching and meaningful story.

So highly readable.
Marlene Bonney 12/09/09
This is the style of writing I enjoy the most, with humor and sarcasm at ONESELF overcoming the nitty-gritty of daily life. Very witty!

Ruth Brown12/09/09
You captured the meaning of Christmas so beautifully,Jan.
Blessings to you.
Karlene Jacobsen12/09/09
You had me laughing, then I cried. Awesome writing!
Sara Harricharan 12/09/09
Nice. A little jumbled with so much going on, but when I read slowly, it makes perfect sense, lol. I did like the lines with the Baby in the manger and I loved the "witnessing" part. Great stuff! ^_^
Mariane Holbrook 12/09/09
A truly beautiful story on so many different levels, written with compassion and self-deprecating humor. A lovely entry.
bill johnson12/09/09
fantastic story. Beautifully written, with a powerful message.
Pamela Kliewer12/09/09
Oh... I really like this. Powerful. I like how you wove images of brown w/o saying brown throughout the story - giving us varying shades of the color.
Emily Gibson12/10/09
Truly a masterpiece on all the nuances of the color brown. It's a terrific story and very deserving of First Place!
Verna Cole Mitchell 12/10/09
Glad to see you back up on top with this wonderful piece!
Margaret Kearley 12/10/09
Wonderful - and very powerful! Congratulations on your well deserved win.
Jennifer Galey12/10/09
Congratulations on your well-deserved win! You made me laugh and cry all in the same piece!
TJ Nickel12/10/09
Best. Article. Ever!
c clemons12/10/09
Very good, although I did not know 'darnitall' was one word. Overall excellent writing.
Yvonne Blake 12/10/09
I love the inner conflict and conversation.
Melanie Kerr 12/10/09
Excellent - but the two best lines were the ones about the baby in the manger! So well placed and right to the heart.
Laury Hubrich 12/10/09
This is a great Christmas story. Well done and congratulations!!!!
Jennifer Campbell12/10/09
This is beautiful. So well worded. Congratulations!
Mona Purvis12/10/09
This is VINTAGE Jan. All the way. Fresh, interesting, unique outlook, drag-feet positive, and especially well written.
Always one to get the reader to see themselves more clearly.

Cherie B.12/10/09
Wonderful job, Jan! I loved it. Such excellent writing!
Patricia Turner12/10/09
Every tiny detail adds to the charm of this very timely story. Outstanding and very deserving of 1st place! Congratulations Jan!
Michael Joshua12/11/09
What a wonderful story, well-told, timely and shows a piece of what Christmas really is! Thanks for this! Enjoyed this from beginning to end.
Charla Diehl 12/16/09
This is superb! Like how your mind is going in different directions but ends up at the heart of the matter. I, too, found the reference to the baby in the manger very grounding. Thanks so much for sharing your talents once again.
Betty Castleberry04/01/10
Ouch. Been there, done that.

I am glad she gave him the money.

And just for the record, most people named Betty are very cheery. ;0)
Carol Penhorwood 04/19/10
This one brought tears to my eyes...WONDERFUL...and very deserving of 1st place!
Jacob Gibson07/13/14
Congratulations on first place! I can see how you got it. Short, sweet, and right to the heart. I'll have to read more.