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Life as Performance Art

    Back in the Olden Days, sometimes known as The Good Old Days, even if they were not all that great, there was no such thing as Black Friday that began at the stroke of midnight the day after Thanksgiving.  Back then, we spent most of Thursday helping to prepare the meal, welcoming guests, and being on our best behavior.  Children who were not perfectly deportmented received their frightening glare of a mother or older woman in the family looking over her glasses in the most intimidating way possible.
     We lived in fear of THE LOOK because it was worse than being told, “If you kids don’t settle down back there I’m going to turn this car around and go home,” a teacher sighing and telling us, “This will go on your permanent record.”    No, THE LOOK meant awesome and fearful punishments. On Thanksgiving it could mean we were being exiled to our room to sit on the edge of our bed in rigid attention while all the good children were getting an extra dose of aerosol infused whipping crème on the pumpkin pie, or the first warning that Santa was already watching.  We’d better shape up or else…
     It was a day eating, listening to corny jokes from uncles, helping with the cleanup, and football.  That was it.  The thankful part came when it was all over, and Uncle Tanoose and Aunt Tilly finally pulled out of the driveway.
    There was no Black Friday on Thanksgiving.  As soon as the house was put back to normal and a month’s supply of leftover turkey and Aunt Dahlia’s avocado and sardine stuffing was put into the Tupperware Bowls, it was off to bed.  And we were thankful for that, too.  Then again, perhaps not the stuffing, even if it was better than the previous year’s pumpkin cupcakes with dill pickle icing.
    Back then, the kickoff to the shopping season came the next morning when, all across America, proud merchants pulled the butcher paper off their store’s big windows to reveal all the consumer treats we could imagine.  They shook hands and welcomed their shoppers as they walked (not stampeded!) through the door.
      You want to know who has it rough today?  It’s the hometown merchants who do not get caught up in Big Box’s Black Friday conspicuous consumerism.  Most of them don’t say it, but like the managers and owners of the chain stores, they are hoping to make enough sales to stay open for another year. It’s the small, privately owned restaurants, who rely on a loyal clientele.  It is the small local churches, too.  The Church Basement Kitchen Ladies invest considerable time and effort making crafts and baking goodies for their sale. The money they receive helps fund some of the church’s outreach during the coming months.
      This is where you and I come in.  Years ago, the American Express credit card people initiated their Shop Small Saturday.  It is simple enough:  with or without their plastic card in hand, visit the local merchants and do your Christmas shopping where it does the best.  Money spent in a local community gets recycled many times over before it leaves town. The dollars you spend at a local store pay the employees; the employees buy gas or a meal from local businesses; the local businesses support one another. And so, it goes.  That is what keeps the main street in a small town alive.
    As a good friend said, “It’s a matter of buy local or bye-bye local.”
     Or ask yourself who helps support some of the non-profits?  It usually is not Big Box.  Nor is it the huge shopping on-line companies that we find on the internet. The local businesses contribute to local non-profits with some of their profits.  It is called ‘giving back,’ and you and I make it possible for them to do it.  When you and I support our local places, they can help with some of the worthy projects. 
     They make a contribution to various community organizations that they believe are doing good work.  Individuals contribute to their church collection plate, to help underwrite the operating expenses and at the same time, aid within the local community.
    Like you, I have often heard people say how they can save money at Big Box.  Of course, they do not consider the cost of driving, the time spent finding a place in the parking lot, and then hiking through snow and slush. They don’t think of the time spent waiting for a sales associate to help you find something, or the time you get to invest standing in line at the checkout.  Nor do they mention how you are reducing their costs by using the self-service check-out machines.  Nor do they consider the financial damage they down in their own area.
     Of course, shopping local sometimes means thinking ahead, and then being creative.  It’s a bit like when my friend Jim goes fishing.  He might be hoping for bluegill and crappies, but some days he gets surprised by a small mouth bass.  Sometimes he and other anglers come home skunked.  Shopping ahead means sometimes being surprised by what you catch.  That is why I like antique shops and secondhand bookstores.  There are always surprises, and with even a modicum of creativity, the perfect and unexpected gift for a friend or loved one pops up in front of you.
     Probably you will not be surprised at running into old friends while you are on your mission to find just the right gift.  In a small town, the odds are very good that will happen. Trust me; it will not happen when you buy on-line.
    Or, if you go to a holiday bazaar hosted by a local group, you might discover that the Christmas baking can get done in less than an hour.  No, it is not your baking. It’s been done for you by the members. You supported them; they saved you a lot of time and effort.
     Many business, retail, and hospitality organizations in our Allegan County communities go all out at this time of year. They decorate their places to make them feel welcoming. They schedule special shopping nights or days to encourage individuals and small groups to make a fun time of it.  Some places hold drawings and contests.  Sometimes, they offer refreshments.  Often, they are on a first name basis with anyone who opens the door.
     To my way of thinking, that is part of the pure old-style pleasure of holiday shopping. It is only when I have exhausted the local establishments and churches, that with considerable muttering and grumbling I will go to Big Box, or help support Mr. Bezo’s billion dollar lifestyle.  An afternoon of frustration like that converts even the best of us into Mr. E Scrooge.

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