Just a little change??

The other day, Mom and I took her Fancy Pants car in for service and after they finished, we decided to do a bit of shopping.

Now the morning had been beautiful, but by afternoon, storm clouds were gathering. And we were eager to get home before the skies opened.

As we were making our way across a parking lot to the car, I noticed a woman standing around. I didn’t pay her much attention, but she zeroed in on us and came right over.

“I hate to ask this, but I was supposed to donate plasma and that fell through. Now I need gas money to get home. Would you happen to have a few extra dollars to give me?”

WHAT?? A panhandler in the parking lot of a major department store?

“I’m sorry,” I told her. “I can’t do that.”

And I raced for Fancy Pants, leaving Mom — who hadn’t heard this exchange — with her mouth agape.

“What did she want?” Mom asked, as I threw the car into reverse and flew out of there.

I told her the story and glanced back to see the woman pull a new-model cell phone from her pocket and start using it.

Hmm, what’s wrong with this picture?!

Here’s a woman who claims she doesn’t have money for gas, but somehow manages to get to the mall toting a new phone??

It smelled like a scam to me.

I know times are tough, people are hurting, the economy is struggling, etc. But my late dad used to tell me stories of the Great Depression years.

When people were really hurting.

And he pointed out that NOBODY would beg for money without offering to exchange a good or service for it.

Like, if you had a laying hen and needed fresh milk for the kids, you’d barter and exchange with your neighbor who had a cow.

Everybody got what they needed; everybody saved face.

So when did it become okay to simply beg from strangers?

And why do we permit able-bodied folks to panhandle rather than working at legitimate jobs?

Perhaps because we’ve made it so lucrative. If you can get past the pride thing, you know.

But I find that rather sad, don’t you?

“Is that all?”

Okay, show of hands.

How many of you got what you really wanted for Christmas this year?

Be honest, now.

Was the style exactly right, or the color, or the size, or the brand?

What about the price? Was it so extravagant that you knew somebody would be paying for it clear into next summer, or was it so cheap that you immediately thought of shoving it in a closet (or re-gifting next year)?

And what about Christmases past? How many of them truly lived up to your expectations?

We all have a tendency to build the holidays up. Happy television people, happy magazine people become our ideals.

In a frenzy, we decorate, bake, shop, wrap, and hide our presents from peeking eyes; we address Christmas cards; we browse online, salivating over untold goodies that we have to have NOW.

And in all the glitter and tinsel and sugar and trimmings, we lose sight of why we’re celebrating this day.

So it’s no wonder we find ourselves feeling let down when the last package is opened.

We’re not alone. Our kids pick up on this, and it’s not pretty.

Most parents know (and dread) “that look” on their kids’ faces.

The one that appears confused.

The darlings look around expectantly and ask, “Is that all?”

They might be sitting on the floor surrounded by mounds of wrapping paper and new treasures, yet there it is.

“Is that all?”

My Favorite Domer did it. My sister did it before him.

My late father, always the voice of reason, told a true story to put things into perspective.

When Dad was a child, money was very tight. It was the time of the Great Depression. Men were jumping out of windows to their deaths after learning their job was gone and so was their money. Women were taking in laundry. Folks were standing in bread lines. Everybody was hungry and tired and sick and scared.

One Christmas, Dad recalled, he wanted toys like the other kids. Something to play with, to enjoy in those wretched times.

But my grandparents could ill afford fancy toys. They did their best to put food on the table and clothes on the kids’ backs.

Still, it was Christmas, so my practical grandmother put together a special toy just for my Dad.

Imagine his surprise — and disappointment! — Christmas Day when he opened a marshmallow man, complete with candy cane arms and legs and a marshmallow head.

That was all.

No toys. Not even one.

Not even another present.

So while you’re squirreling that hideous sweater into the re-gifting closet, while you’re standing in yet another returns line at Wal-Mart, while you’re consoling (for the fifth time) a weeping child disappointed over not getting the latest-and-greatest, think about that.

And remember — it’s not the present, it’s the love behind the present, that truly matters.