For those who work on the holiday, Christmas is ordinary — and extraordinary

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 26, 2013

There’s a scene from Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol” that doesn’t always make it into the stage and screen versions.
In the book, the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge and shows him people celebrating Christmas far and wide — miners in their huts, sailors far out at sea, well-dressed young ladies on their way to parties.
Here in Salisbury, the streets were quiet on Christmas Day.
For those who had to work, or chose to work, on the holiday, Christmas was a mix of ordinary day and extraordinary time.
In the age of instant-access, 24-hour, seven-days-a-week business, Christmas is a throwback to a time when just about everything closed at least one day a week.
Only a couple of restaurants were open, and their seats stayed full.
One Rowan County deputy sheriff, who didn’t want to be identified by name, said the line for Hardee’s drive-through stretched “all the way out into Innes Street” at one point.
At China Buffet, on North Arlington Street, staff member May Qu said the restaurant was “not very busy, but it’s been steady,” as dinner guests filled many of the tables and booths. Christmas carols played over the sound system.
“Most of the people coming are families,” Qu said.
Having to work on Christmas didn’t make it less of a holiday, she said. “I opened presents this morning,” Qu said. “An iPhone and some other nice stuff.”
Five blocks away, at the Rowan Helping Ministries overnight shelter on Long Street, men and women lined up to check in.
As shelter guests made their way inside, volunteer Zenobia Clark, of Salisbury, stood in the staff area, by the machines where guests’ clothes would be washed.
Clark said he’s volunteered at the shelter for a year. “This place sure helped me out when I needed it,” Clark said. “Sometimes, it ain’t all about getting paid.”
For the most part, despite it being Christmas, Clark said, “it’ll be a normal night.”
At least, Clark said, they would try to make sure it was a pleasant night.
“You want to be happy on Christmas, and make sure everybody else is, too,” Clark said.
In the kitchen, volunteers from First Baptist Church’s Singled Out Sunday school class made ready to serve supper to shelter guests.
Tommy Taylor, Ed Morton and Tony Cole stood in the kitchen, waiting on classmates to deliver food cooked at the church.
The menu: ham, macaroni and cheese, potato soup, green beans and bread, with cake for dessert.
All said they were glad for the chance to help others, period — but especially on Christmas.
Taylor said that, since most of his family has passed away, “it’s pretty much a lonely time at home.”
Morton said he moved to China Grove about two months ago, and soon found out about the church and the Sunday school class.
He’s a survivor of prostate cancer. Three years ago, undergoing treatment in Atlanta, “I got my mind ready to die,” Morton said.
Then, he recovered. Since then, he said, he’s been trying to help other people out.
Christmas for Morton, he said, “means trying to be around friends, since most of my family’s gone, and trying to give something back, since I’ve got a second chance.”
Cole said that holidays can be difficult. “All of my family lives in Virginia,” Cole said.
That, and right now, he’s been struggling to make ends meet. “I’m working for a local company that’s only giving me 30 hours a week,” Cole said. “It’s right rough.”
“But you know, you’ve got to have faith,” Cole went on.
That’s why Cole said he was glad to be able to help out at the shelter. “When you get older, you get more out of giving than out of receiving, anyway,” Cole said. “When you help somebody, it’s a lot more rewarding.”
There was still time for Christmas cheer, even in a place most people find far from cheerful.
At the Rowan County Magistrate’s Office on West Liberty Street, Magistrate Joseph McGee said Christmas Day had been fairly routine.
For the holiday, instead of the typical 24-hour shift that magistrates typically serve, those who had the duty agreed to break the days into eight-hour blocks so that no one person would have to work all of Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
On Wednesday, McGee said he spent time at home with his family, then came in to work at 3 p.m.
As 8 p.m. rolled around, McGee had three hours to go. So far, he said, it had been a quiet day.
“On holidays, people are typically doing their holiday thing,” McGee said – which meant, during his Christmas shift, a couple of minor disturbances and not much else.
The Christmas holidays bring McGee and his co-workers together for one of the only opportunities they get to socialize throughout the year.
“We went to Uncle Buck’s last week,” McGee said. “It’s rare, because of our odd work schedules, that we can get our folks together.”
McGee, himself, took part in the Scrooge’s Christmas Trolley Tour in November and December.
He’s still sporting the style of beard he grew to portray Mr. Fezziwig, Scrooge’s employer.
As another Christmas Day ended, he said the biggest thing he enjoyed was getting to spend time with the ones he loves.
“Christmas, for people my age, is a whole lot about family,” McGee said.
And, McGee said, Christmas for his family is “very traditional. It’s the date of the savior’s birth. It’s about being with family, with friends.”
“But,” he went on, “I was in the military for 12 years, worked for retail, and then of course this job.”
In that situation, McGee said, working on holidays becomes “almost routine.”
Even on one of the most extraordinary holidays of the year.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.