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It was Kristie Adonizio to the rescue last Christmas.

For a good 10 years, her grandfather, Jay Delaney, and I had teamed up to man a Salvation Army red kettle during the holiday season. But when Jay, now in his 80s, could not make it last year because his wife Dorothy was gravely ill, Kristie stepped right up. “I’ll do it,” she said without hesitation. “I’ll take his place.”

One would think this beautiful, single, 20-something who’s been known to take off for the ski slopes every chance she gets would have much better things to do than to hang out with an old guy like me outside a department store ringing a Salvation Army bell, but Kristie was all about it. “He’s my grandpa,” she said. “It will be an honor.”

The honor was mine, when all was said and done, but there was a moment that was, well, let’s say “interesting.”

I found these goofy hats in the Christmas Tree Shoppe and bought one for me and one for Kristie. They were knit hats that looked like Christmas trees, lights and all. Hardly the thing I’d wear to, say, Midnight Mass, but perfect for the occasion, I thought. It was dark when we began our shift at Wal-Mart and we made quite a pair in our matching, glowing headwear.

Turned out those hats were donation magnets. Everyone commented as they dropped money in our kettle. Little kids pointed and giggled. Adults asked us where we got them. Everything about us shouted “Merry Christmas!”

We were nothing if not festive.

Then the unexpected happened.

Kristie said she needed to dash into Wal-Mart to use the restroom and suddenly I was alone at the kettle. Standing all by myself in that stupid hat put a whole different spin on the setting. Instead of a grandfatherly type spreading holiday cheer with this lovely young lady by his side, I was now a dorky old guy with a Christmas tree on my head, lights and all.

I’m probably exaggerating, but it seemed not one donation went into that kettle while I was alone. I was sure some people took one look at me and walked all the way to the other entrance. And it was a darned cold night for such a long walk.

“Please, Kristie,” I kept praying. “Please hurry back.”

Kristie did come back, thank God, and when she did I actually heard angelic Christmas music. It was probably coming from Wal-Mart when she opened the door, but it was appropriate nonetheless.

The temperature kept dropping but not our spirits and our kettle was overflowing when we finally said “G-g-g-good n-n-n-night” through chattering teeth and went our separate ways. Me home to a warm bed and Kristie most likely out on the town.

She had, by the way, skied all day prior to joining me at Wal-Mart and still looked fresh as a daisy. I, on the other hand, had spent most of my day trying to figure out how many pairs of long underwear I could squeeze into and still pull up my jeans.

As great as our night outside Wal-Mart turned out, I figured Kristie and I to be one hit wonders. But I was wrong. Kristie asked me to sign us up again this year and I quickly obliged. We are booked for the same location, Wal-Mart on Route 315, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 23. This stint is twice as long as last year. I assured Kristie she does not have to stay for the whole shift but she insists she will. Again, one would think she has much more exciting things to do two days before Christmas.

My job, I guess, is to come up with new hats. Lights won’t be necessary this time because we will be there during the day, but somehow I feel I must top last year. And I suppose I should pick up something normal, like maybe an Eagles hat, to slip on if Kristie goes to the restroom.

I must point out I also will be manning a Salvation Army red kettle on Saturday, Dec. 9, from 3:30 to 8 p.m. at Wal-Mart, as well. I’m hoping my 14-year-old great niece Hannah Kern and her grandma, my big sister Sheila, can join me.

Hannah has been my bell ringing buddy since she was a little tyke. She’s pretty busy this days with school and swim team, but she’s going to do her best to be there. I have not even asked Sheila yet. She’s hearing about it for the first time right now.

I just might break out last year’s Christmas tree hat for this one. If the battery isn’t dead. And if Hannah and Sheila won’t mind being seen with me.

Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.