When Thanksgiving Off Work Is A Rare Treat For millions of Americans working in retail, Thanksgiving is the start to the most intense stretch of the year. One woman shares the story of her first Thanksgiving without a work shift in 23 years.
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'Just Time Together': For Some Workers, A Thanksgiving Off Is A Rare Treat

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'Just Time Together': For Some Workers, A Thanksgiving Off Is A Rare Treat

'Just Time Together': For Some Workers, A Thanksgiving Off Is A Rare Treat

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  • Transcript

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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