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Finding good will waiting in a ham line

Sometimes a snapshot in time creates an indelible memory — if only for you.

Sometimes a mundane task blossoms into an event with an intrinsic value you never thought you would find.

I can't speak for the other 20-plus people waiting in line at the Honeybaked Ham store last week. I can't say they felt the warmth I felt, so radiant I suddenly didn't need a jacket.

But here's what I can say: I went to get a 9-pound ham last week and found a new answer to the question, "Why do you live in Brandon?"

I drove up to the store in the shopping plaza next to the Westfield Brandon mall and saw a line spilling out the door. Fret and frustration, the normal emotions when taking a spot at the end of a queue, weren't there for me or the other folks preparing for the holiday.

The gentleman behind me joked about the line. I smiled and said, "I guess I should have listened when the Honeybaked woman said, "Pick up your ham on Monday."

We soon made small talk and began to chat with another guy about his job with the Tampa water department. As we drifted into the store, I noted we could add Honeybaked to the list of stores that are recession-proof.

Inside, a small television showed Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the soothing voice of Burl Ives singing Have a Holly Jolly Christmas made the prolonged wait that much more enjoyable.

Behind me, a young mother waded through with her 2-year-old toddler. He reached up to an older woman behind him and when she picked him up, he didn't fuss at all.

"You must realize I'm a grandmother," she exclaimed as he hugged her.

When the Rudolph DVD stopped, I pushed the button to start it again —because I love Rudolph.

Soon, the toddler stepped toward the TV and extended his arms to me. I stuck my fingers out to him and he grabbed them like pegs. The mother said, "Go ahead, you can pick him up." I did and we watched as Rudolph tried to cover his nose with coal.

A store employee offered chocolate mousse cake samples and insisted we eat it because she didn't want to throw it away. Like she had to make a plea.

Throughout the line, people of all hues talked and laughed, connected only by a desire to get home and a palpable spirit of goodwill. Maybe it was the holiday or maybe it was the knowledge we could afford a ham while others couldn't, but we were happy.

And we were blessed.

An interesting conversation arose between a thirtysomething black man and an older white woman. A member of the Army, he asked if Honeybaked offered a military discount. The woman said he certainly deserved one.

The conversation turned to safety and the woman explained she learned at a recent sheriff's meeting that Brandon has more gangs than Tampa. The man lamented that if more of these young men could find their way into the military like he did, they could get on the right path.

Finally, he reassured the woman by saying, "As long as I'm around, you've got nothing to worry about."

She smiled with a new sense of comfort and as she gathered her purchase, she said, "Happy Thanksgiving and God bless you for serving our nation."

I don't know if this happens in New York or Chicago, but I know it happens here. And that's enough for me.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper also writes a column for the Tampa Bay section. Reach him at hooper@sptimes.com or 226-3406.

Finding good will waiting in a ham line 12/04/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 9:43pm]
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