The elderly Salvation Army Santa sat hunched over on a chair outside of Walmart this past Christmas season. He rang a bell, beckoning customers to leave an offering in the red kettle. Between rings, he pulled his mask down and puffed on a cigarette.
A phrase my dad used to repeat ran through my mind as I took all this in.
“Never pass a red kettle.”
He’s been gone for twenty-two years, yet he’s still speaking to me. I try to make a habit of dropping something into the kettle but I rarely carry cash these days – something he hadn’t accounted for all those years ago. But he was a technology guy, so I’m guessing he’d tell me to ask the smoking Santa if he accepts Venmo.
Either way, the sentiment remains. If you can help someone, do it.
I’m probably more suspicious of people than Dad was, and I wish that weren’t true. I’ve been approached in too many parking lots by too many people telling me the same story they did the last time I visited that store, so I’m jaded.
On top of that, throw in a dash of threatened violence. An intoxicated man approached me in a Walgreens parking lot one day, asking for money. I declined his request.
“You gonna do me like that, man?”
“I’m not afraid of you, big man.”
“I’m not afraid of you either.”
He raised his booted foot to kick my car. I was ready to spring into action, thinking I was getting more than I bargained for when I exited the store with some cold medicine. He stumbled backward when he lifted his leg and nearly fell on his backside. Rather than trying again, he cursed at me as he walked away.
Even with my bad experiences, Dad would probably remind me that he used to own two bars and saw his share of scams over the years, yet somehow, he wasn’t jaded. Well, I don’t think that’s true. He was probably the right amount of jaded.
Never pass a red kettle.
Okay, Dad. I hear you.