Covid might have derailed holiday plans and traditions, but Christmas nostalgia is deeply ingrained, with triggers as varied as the scent of cinnamon, carols playing on Sonos, Dickens on my bedside table, and the L.L. Bean catalogue appearing in the mail.

With a cup of tea in hand and a Bean’s catalogue to browse, it could be any decade from my past: me in a voluminous, unflattering Lanz nightgown, Mom and Dad reading by the fire in Vermont in the seventies, or, in the eighties, my kids in their pajamas, playing with their Transformers and Cabbage Patch Kids. L.L. Bean is consistent, and relatively unmoved by trends. Models smile rather than pout, and stride through snow in sturdy boots and puffy parkas without that awkward hand-on-cocked-hip pose favored in most fashion magazines. L.L. Bean’s catalogue is colorful, familiar, and comforting.

Not long ago, I called the company’s 1-800 line to order some gifts, and a woman answered the phone. She introduced herself and asked how she could help me. I had questions about sizing, fabrics, and colors, and she was patient and friendly. I must’ve been feeling raw that day, for her kindness touched some deep chord, and I was inordinately grateful for her gentle voice.

“Can I tell you something?” I said. “You have no idea what it means to have a real person, a nice person, answer the phone.”

I confess, I choked up a bit… I know. It’s pathetic, but so it was. “Everything now is rushed and impersonal, all about business and money. It means something to have a human connection. Please let the company know how important that is, and how much I appreciated talking to you. ”

She was quiet for a minute, then said, “Just this morning, I left home for work and thought, ‘Here I go; off to change the world selling slippers and sweaters. I felt sheepish about my job. But maybe the way I do it does make a difference in someone’s day. So, thank you for saying that.”

Again, I assured her it did, and we signed off with warm wishes for the holidays.

Dave has all the flannel shirts he’ll ever need, and my signature Bean’s rubber-soled boots have held up over the years as advertised. We already have snowshoes, quilts, towels, and turtlenecks, but still, I flip through the catalogue, enjoying the ride: evergreen wreaths, berry-red candles, families in matching plaid PJ’s, and precious Labrador puppies peeking from canvas tote bags. It’s a relief in this time of turmoil, loss, and disease to give myself over to the fantasy of L.L. Bean world and pretend that it is 2020 that is the illusion.

An added note: My husband, Dave, routinely asks for a manager in order to compliment an employee when someone has been helpful. They certainly hear the complaints, but not always the good things, and THAT can make someone’s day.

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