STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
One in 10 workers in the United States works in retail, selling everything from clothing to groceries. For those millions of Americans, this week marks the beginning of a stressful stretch of the year - the holiday shopping season. Casey Hammond is feeling it. He works at a store selling outdoor gear in upstate New York.
CASEY HAMMOND: I'm working Thanksgiving night, so I'll be working, you know, 5 to midnight, and then I'll be working again Friday morning, so I'll come back in around 8 or 9.
INSKEEP: Hammond was one of several retail workers who shared their stories of working on Thanksgiving with NPR's Alina Selyukh.
ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: The way Brenda Bracey tells the story, it's just short of a miracle. For many years now, she's built a life working in retail in Florida.
BRENDA BRACEY: I have been working in grocery stores for 23 years, and I've done all different jobs.
SELYUKH: These days, she works at the deli. Last year, she switched companies, so she's starting from the bottom again.
BRACEY: It is the hardest job in the store. Physically, you're scrubbing a lot and lifting heavy stuff.
SELYUKH: Plus, you have to wait on customers, and shoppers can be grumpy. But Bracey says it's her favorite part.
BRACEY: They're just so funny to me. If you're getting a really hard-to-handle person, you know that later on that night this is going to be the guy that you're describing to your kids, you know, and making everybody laugh.
SELYUKH: And a thing to know about grocery stores around the holidays - Thanksgiving is extremely busy. It's usually all hands on deck. When I ask Bracey about Thanksgiving work, she lets out a sigh. She says, you have to work faster and longer.
BRACEY: By the time the holiday gets here, you're just so tired. You know, you don't care. We're eating Cocoa Puffs (laughter).
SELYUKH: Until last year, Bracey worked at a supermarket chain called Winn-Dixie. But remember, she has now switched jobs, so she works at a store called Publix. And there she was about a month ago working at that deli...
BRACEY: And somebody said something about, well, we're not even going to be open on Thanksgiving. And I stopped what I was doing and I said, wait a minute, we're not open on Thanksgiving? And everybody looked at me like I was an idiot (laughter). And then I said, oh, my God, I'm off on Thanksgiving (laughter).
SELYUKH: What you need to realize is that this has never happened to Bracey since she took that grocery job years ago.
BRACEY: Twenty-three years.
SELYUKH: Wait, seriously?
BRACEY: This is the first Thanksgiving in 23 years that I have not worked at least an eight-hour shift.
SELYUKH: And there's more.
Do you have to work on Black Friday?
BRACEY: No. I can't believe that. That's what I'm saying. I know I sound like a crazy person, but I can't wrap my mind around this.
SELYUKH: Typically, her Thanksgiving celebration involves a lot of remote management of her sons.
BRACEY: I'll cook part of the food, and then I'll stick a little sticky note saying I go in the oven at 10:30. You know what I mean?
SELYUKH: But wouldn't it be nice to say that in person? Bracey says she's grateful to have a job in the first place. It's put food on her table, but she's also realizing the cost of those 23 years of working on Thanksgiving.
BRACEY: I don't think I realized the significance of it, and I wish I could get that back. To me, it wasn't a fair trade, not just for me but for the time that I had with those kids for stupid things like going to buy the food together; you know, just time together that we didn't have.
SELYUKH: Time that they will have this year. Alina Selyukh, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MASHED POTATO TIME")
THE RONETTES: (Singing) Mashed potato, wait a minute, wait a minute, mashed potato, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
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