The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Michele Bender

December 8, 2012

MICHELE M. BENDER | Every elf for himself

JOHNSTOWN — I’ve never been much of a shopper, even at Christmas. I’m certainly not one who’d stand in an icy, dark parking lot at 4 a.m. with some bunch of wingnuts waiting to purchase a Cabbage Patch doll.

By mid-December, after several fruitless and frustrating expeditions, I’m usually hostile enough to smack Santa up-side the head and drop kick an elf or two.

One season, I caught bronchitis at Halloween. Outdoors, snow drifted and temperatures plunged, so I didn’t mind being homebound. Indoors, however, supplies of Tide, Listerine, Dawn, Kleenex and Irish Spring bath soap dwindled dangerously.

My family could forgive a lack of Christmas gifts because I was ill. They would not, under any circumstances, understand why there was no Charmin.

Before dollar stores took root and sprouted everywhere, folks shopped for household products at Phar Mor. The lure of discount prices and the inevitable approach of Christmas forced me to venture out.

I selected an afternoon when skies, although gray, weren’t spewing snowflakes or sleet. Plus, Sears Catalog Department had called: The sweater I ordered for my mom had arrived. I couldn’t pass up a “two-fer.”

I slogged through Phar Mor’s slushy lot, emerging about 20 minutes later lugging my sacks of necessities. I set the bags on the passenger side floor.

Still coughing and wheezing, I inched up slippery Eisenhower Boulevard. In those days, Sears occupied a corner of the old Richland Mall (Think “Richie the Pook”) (or not!).

A small area in the rear was designated for “express” catalog shoppers.

I searched for an empty slot, cruising snow-packed lanes, until I spied reverse lights. An elderly man driving a Buick Electra with the turning radius of a Carnival Cruise Ship took five “back-ups” to maneuver his vessel into the aisle.

The second he cleared it, two 20-something guys in a battered blue Nova whipped into the opening ahead of me.

I steered back several rows and parallel parked next to a snowpile. As I trudged over crunchy snow, smoke poured out my ears. The amused desperados watched me approach.

One spoke up. “Whatsamatta, lady? Did we steal your spot?”

The other chimed in. “We’re soooo sorry!”

Not satisfied with merely pilfering my spot, they decided to taunt me.

They disappeared into the mall. My catalog purchase took just minutes and I returned to my car in no time. As I placed Mom’s sweater on the passenger seat, the Phar Mor bag on the floor caught my eye.

The four-pack of Irish Spring perched atop the other items.

Temptation overcame me. I unwrapped a bar.

I pulled up to the Nova and leaned across its windshield clutching the Irish Spring.

“You weren’t really sorry!” I scrawled in enormous waxy green letters. “Now, you are!”

Back behind the wheel, I sped off, making a clean getaway.

Michele Mikesic Bender is a Johnstown resident and a member of  The Tribune-Democrat’s Readership Advisory Committee.

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Michele Bender
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