If there’s one thing you can count on at Christmas time, it’s a queue. Some of them are the good, old-fashioned kind. Some, not so much.
I was first introduced to the good, old-fashioned queue when I lived in England for a few years in the 1990s. I arrived in middle England (like Middle Earth, only colder) and got myself a temp job as ‘Shirley Switchboard’ for a local direct debit company – think the people who run the EFTPOS technology.
The first morning, wrapped in my brand new coat, I headed off to the bus stop, to be confronted by a neat line of people arranged across the footpath, nobody speaking.
Unused to this, given that Sydney bus stops tend to resemble flocks of seagulls ready to pounce on the first unsuspecting chip (or bus) that approaches, I loitered around a nearby fence, observing. When the bus arrived, everybody neatly filed on. Woe betide anyone who attempted a sidling sideways entry through the bus doors. They were given short shrift.
It was a good lesson in queuing. And it comes in handy at this time of year.
Today, I stood in two Fibrotown queues. The first, in a well-known ‘variety’ store, was a hot, frustrating exercise in fraying tempers. Bright lights, cheesy carols, people with at least eight items in the ‘5 items or less’ line. There was a lot of muttering. Some huffing. General shifting from foot to foot.
And that was just me.
The second, in the local post office, was quite a different story.
I arrived with my arms laden with parcels, head swivelling from side to side, checking out the array of ‘last-minute gift items’ in the strategically placed dump bins, doing the kind of ‘do I need it?’ mental calculations designed to drive a last-minute shopper mad.
The queue was long, snaking and winding its way through the shelves of Christmas cards and packing tape, like a serpent. Or a boa constrictor, ready to suffocate the unwary.
I took my place and began a little huffing, with, possibly, some muttering and shifting thrown in. The lady in front of me turned and smiled. Cropped grey hair, bright blue eyes, impeccably dressed.
She was a chatter, I could tell.
I tried a perfunctory half-smile in return, hoping to avoid discussion of the weather, but she was having none of it. Before I knew it, she’d drawn me into conversation.
We quickly covered off the horrors of the season, how many children/grandchildren we each had (she had many more of the latter than I do), the cost of postage, blah, blah, blah. The queue wound slowly forward.
“We’re lucky,” she said. “We’re going to my daughter’s for Christmas. If it had been last week, we wouldn’t have got there.”
Her daughter lives in Young, NSW. They grow cherries. Grew cherries. Before the flood came.
“We only moved out here a few years ago,” she confided. “Before we moved, we’d had four years of drought. Not a drop of rain. Now this. Christmas won’t be that merry, but at least we’ll be together.”
It was a sobering moment. Nightly we’ve been watching the news as town after town went underwater. “How terrible,” we say to each other. “Those poor people.” Our next thought? Food’s going to get more expensive.
She watches it and thinks of her daughter and her former neighbours. People. Farmers who’ve been doing it tough for years, and are now doing it even tougher.
“Who’d be a farmer?” my friend from the queue remarked as she finally hit the top and headed off to a counter. “Have a Merry Christmas.”
“You too,” I said, fervently. “Oh, you too.”
Beautiful slice of life piece…and one that reminds me that you often have the most sobering or thought-provoking convos when you least want to.
Sobering. poor old Western NSW. It has had the worst of both worlds in recent years. 🙁
Great post, helped me get out of that self absorbed bubble that tends to form as the prospect of the holidays looms.
Sydney Shop Girl blog
I loved this post! And your RRSAHM one too!
We had some flooding a few months ago, with a town just north of us taking the brunt of it. I was like you, listening on the news and feeling sorry for people in a detached kind of way, when I met someone whose livelihood was destroyed by the floods. Wow. Sometimes life is exactly like waiting in a line; you never know when your turn is coming.
I too would have my ‘don’t speak to me’ face on, but I know from experience that such chats make queues disappear very quickly.
Lovely story and beautifully written, as ever, Al.
Thoughtful and sobering. We are busy feeling grateful this morning because a nasty bushfire came close to but missed D’s parents place in the Perth foothills. Nature at its scariest.
I just love your writing!
And being from a farming family, I totally get this. x
If I only get time to read one post today, I’m so glad it’s this one. Another beautifully written fable x
There are Chatters and then there are Conversationalists and I think your friend was a highly honed version of the latter. Conversationalists are those strangers who through idle chatting make us pull up and change the path of our thinking. This is why I never avoid a Chatter as they just may turn out to be a blessed Conversationalist.
Beautiful fable with a moral we could all do more thinking on. x
Definitely makes me think about what we have. You just never know who has it worse. Great post and beautiful writing as always.
Al, can I just say, I love your Fibrotown fables…especially this one.
You are so right about all of this, (oh,and i love your -style- of writing!) , i find myself complaining a lot , but then things happen and put it all back into perspective. we are trying hard,with gratitude and love, to always remember how much we really have in our life.
thank you for this gentle reminder, i really love your blog and i will definitely be back.
I was cross and grumpy about the snow we were having hear until I saw Trishs post about the flooding she was experiencing and it made me stop. I have been trying to follow and keep up with the flooding since, but not much on the news about it this side of the world. It does make one stop and think about what is really important though. Jen
I was really hoping more people would feel like the lady you met in the Post Office this year, not because it would mean that they’d gone through similarly bad times but that they’d come to realise that what was most important about the holidays was being able to spend it with the people that mattered to you. Instead of which, everyone seems to be stressing about presents and cards and food and drink and parties as usual.
What would we do if the weather wasn’t a viable topic of discussion each and every day? Weather must be the best icebreaker in terms of speaking to people we don’t know. At first the woman was ‘a lady’ ‘a chatter’ then after all she was ‘my friend’, I love that transition! All in the time it takes to queu at the post office. Beautiful.
I love this post as it makes you stop and think of others – or it did me.
You’re right, we sit and watch the news and think “oh those poor people” but probably don’t truly grasp anything beyond how it affects us on a much smaller scale eg higher food prices.
I hope that lady and her family do have a lovely Christmas [as much as possible] and that their farm and those of their neighbours is back on it’s feet sooner rather than later.
My next hope is that the crazy weather disappears for awhile! The east has too much water and we have hardly any! Crazy!