It was 11 o’clock, the night before Thanksgiving, and I realized that I had forgotten the spinach for my spinach artichoke dip. My husband and I were frantically straightening up the house, preparing for the steady march of friends and family who were coming by for some TV, naps, and dessert after their turkey.

My husband, eager for bed, shrugged, “Just go in the morning. We’re a mile away from a grocery store. Kroger will be open tomorrow, right?”

“Oh, absolutely. They could never close on Thanksgiving.”

“Funny how you never hear anyone get up in arms about grocery store clerks working on Thanksgiving.” He shot me a wry look over his glasses. I just grinned back.

 

At 7am, Thanksgiving morning, I drove over to Kroger and picked up spinach, paper towels, and a big bag of ice. Bleary eyed workers were stocking fresh produce. One young bagger was loudly cracking jokes about the early hour with the cute girl at the customer service desk. A couple in the liquor section, buying a few bottles of wine, smiled and shared a private joke about their relatives. Everyone greeted me with a “Happy Thanksgiving!”

As I checked out, I remembered my husband’s words from the night before. I looked up at the cashier.

“Thank you for working today. I really appreciate it!”

She was a middle-aged woman, wearing way too much blush and way too many rings. But she smiled at me. “Oh, it’s no problem. My family’s cooking right now, and we’ll all be together later. The turkey will be there waiting for me!”

I nodded.

The turkey will wait.

No matter how hard I try, I just can’t ignite any rage in myself over Black Friday, or the injustice of people being “forced” to work over the holidays. I have studied Marxism. I understand the flaws of our capitalist system. I am aware of the abuses. The unfairness. The injustice. The horrors. I know that Black Friday “deals” are predatory, and that many minimum wage workers don’t have the financial option of missing a day of work.

But then I remember, The turkey will wait.

Because it’s not the day that matters. It’s not that the last Thursday in every November is somehow more magical than the last Friday. Or the first Saturday. Or June 22nd. Or any evening at any time throughout the year when you can gather the family of your choosing around you.

Because you don’t need to wait for a holiday to tell your husband why you’re thankful for him. He’s already sitting across from you.

Because sometimes you have to work when you’d rather be doing something else. But there is nothing to keep you from doing what you love with whom you love.

Because sometimes you have to make your own holiday.

The turkey will wait.

Growing up, my family owned a small, one-screen movie theatre in my hometown. All summer long, I worked nights and weekends, and during the day I would open the empty theatre, and clean and stock it in preparation for that night. All of my friends also worked in the service industry (though back then we just called it “being a busboy/waiter/caddy/boat hand”). We all had essentially the same hours, so it wasn’t a big deal. I never knew that I was missing out on anything.

But every Halloween, we would open the theatre, make a huge batch of popcorn, and hand out candy to trick-or-treaters and free, hot popcorn and small Cokes to their chilly parents. I worked every Halloween night starting around the age of ten. Truth be told, growing up in Northern Michigan, I wasn’t a big fan of walking around at night, often in snow and sleet, and begging for candy. My cousin and I would give up early almost every year as small children, and we’d sit in the show and watch our parents sip Coca Cola, laugh and talk with the parents, and ruffle the hair of all of the children who came through. Eventually, my cousin started joining his friends, and they would trick-or-treat through the entire town. I was the only one who stayed behind at the show, playing in the empty theatre, and dancing on the green, creaking stage. Finally, I started handing out candy. Then, my father put me in charge of the popcorn machine. I would wink at the parents who came through as I snuck a little melted butter on top of their free bag of popcorn. I would try to jump out and scare the older kids. I would smile at the little ones, and let them warm their hands on the glass of the popcorn machine, knowing full well that it would be my job the next day to clean their fingerprints off.

I never trick-or-treated again.

And then, every year at Christmas, instead of watching the holiday parade that marked the start of winter break, I helped my father and uncle set up for our free Christmas show. After the parade, we let everyone in the town come in, have popcorn and pop, and would play old holiday cartoons for the kids.

I never watched the parade. I missed it every year.

But I got to serve people. I got to make people happy. Instead of having one holiday for myself, I was able to participate in dozens of them, making myself a part of each family’s holiday.

I “had” to work. I was “forced” to be there (anyone who has grown up in a family business knows, you HAVE to be there!). I earned less than minimum wage. But I also loved being there. I knew that I was making the town that I loved better in some small way.

And the turkey always waited.

Perhaps we can all sit back and snarl and scoff at those who go shopping on Black Friday (or on Blacker Thursday?). There is something unsettling about otherwise completely sane, rational people rioting, trampling, punching, and losing general sight of their humanity on that day. But I like to think that those cases are actually few and far between. More people are like my husband’s relatives. They lost everything in a house fire on Halloween night (faulty fireplace flue), so they skipped dessert at our house, and went to Best Buy instead.  On Thanksgiving day. They wanted to get a new TV. A bigger one than what they had lost. And they didn’t want to spend too much money. They managed to get one of the Black Friday specials. They managed to replace one, large piece of what they had lost, and step that much closer to normal again.

They never made it back to my house.

They never ate my spinach artichoke dip.

But that’s okay.

The turkey will wait.

So, thank you for working. Thank you for making my holidays better.  You may not know that you did, but you did. You may have lost sight of that while you were ringing up yet another irritated, hungry, tired, complaining customer, but you did. You made a difference. I wish that your paycheck reflected that difference. I really do. But until I can change that for you, all I can do is thank you. Thank you for working. Thank you.

And, thank you for standing in line in the freezing rain in order to get that special toy for your child, for your grandchild, for yourself, for the family of your choosing. Thank you for using the power of your purchase to bring a little bit of joy into the world. Even if doing so is only our vain attempt to try to bring some joy into the world, isn’t it worth it to try? To just try?

And, when you’re done? When you come home, when you clock out, unpack the car, take a shower? Let’s have some apple pie. Together.

Don’t worry.

The turkey will wait.

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