Happy to be a ding-a-ling

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It is official; I am now one of the holiday ding-a-lings, and pleased as punch to be one. I joined the ranks of dingers this past weekend when I donned a flashing red nose and antlers and took up my post outside the entrance to Wal-Mart.

For as long as I remember, the familiar Salvation Army kettle manned by a bell ringer appeared at Christmastime. However, no bells rang in this county for several years.

So when my friend, Sonny James told me he worked with the Salvation Army to bring them back this year and that he could use some volunteer bell ringers, I thought why not give it a go. So, that is how another friend, Marsha, and I ended up ringing our hearts out for two hours Saturday morning.

I’m not sure what I expected volunteering to be like, but it was great, interesting and a learning experience, too. The first thing I learned is how much fun it is to watch people’s faces when they see a grown woman with a flashing red nose and antlers.

Mostly the kids loved it, and the adults laughed, shook their heads or quickly looked away. I also discovered that it does you good to move out of your comfort zone by wearing antlers, which pretty much stops you from taking yourself too seriously.

But the best part of the morning was the wonderful folks who passed by on their way into the store. I got a real kick seeing the articles of clothing they wore supporting their chosen sports teams, their favorite hobbies, their business affiliations etc. Oh, and the holiday shirts were wonderful and creative. Of course, there was a white-haired senior gentleman wearing a bright green shirt that said, “I’m not Santa but you can sit on my lap,” which, I guess, proves hope springs eternal at Christmas.

However, what I’ll carry with me for a long time were the smiles I got as people dropped something into the kettle. One child started into the store, then turned around and, with no urging from an adult, pulled a coin from his jeans and pushed it in the slot. Another boy came with both hands full of change, grinning as he took several minutes to drop it in the kettle.

In fact, most all of the children either came up with a donation ready or asked the adults with them for some money. And many parents took the opportunity to demonstrate the spirit of giving by encouraging their children to donate.

Then, there were the folks who stopped to talk. One nice man told me anyone with the gumption to stand in front of Walmart in my “get-up” deserved a donation. Another sweet lady put a dollar in as she passed, then on her way back out of the store she stuffed in another one.

“It is such a beautiful day, and I’m so blessed, I’m going to give some more,” she said. “I am so much better off than so many folks.”

And there was the person who touched me most, and who understood in a personal way what the pennies, and quarters and dollars mean to those this organization helps. He was a tall, dignified man who wore a jacket that indicated he is a veteran, and he came by as I stood talking to Sonny.

“Well, hi, friend,” Sonny said shaking his hand. “You know this fellow gives something every time he passes.”

The man smiled and said.

“The Salvation Army helped me when I was a kid; sent me to camp. You’ve got to give back.”

Sure enough when he came out of the store later, he stopped to make another donation.

As I watched him walk away arm-in-arm with his wife, I rang my bell for all I was worth and thought how good it was on a beautiful December Saturday morning to be a ding-a-ling.