Graveyard shifts or the graveyard watch is a term referring to working late at night, till early morning light. Graveyard shift is an evocative term for the nightshift between about midnight and eight in the morning. When no matter how often you’ve worked it, your skin is clammy-white (vitamin D deficiency), there’s sand behind your eyeballs (light sensitive), and the world is creepily and eerily silent, like the graveyard.
“England is old and small and they started running out of places to bury people. So, they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a “bone-house” and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, one out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside, and they realized they had been burying people alive. So, they thought they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the “graveyard shift”) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be “saved by the bell” or was considered a “dead ringer.”
This is what “they” told me regarding the origins of the graveyard shift; much debunked and fictional folklore, yet enough to let that sink to the bottom like a rock. Maybe the terms saved by the bell, and dead ringer are myths, but sadly the graveyard watch is quite plausible and likely probable given that time-period. The name originated in the USA at the tail-end of the 1800s. For me, it was a Holiday job and helped to support me through college. Paid my own way through school, but books and the cost for living were so expensive and hence another job was beneficial.
My first professional introduction to marketing and advertising, and the less glamorous stocking shelves (bend at your knees!). We had a motley crew, and I was hired dead last. A Pacific Islander (Keon) for the garden center, Kevin (went to H.S. with) for boys’ wear and toys, a hunky amateur boxer (Biff) for technology and outdoors, Todd the manager, two outside employed janitors who pretended to not speak a lick of English, and Amy and I for ladies’ wear and home essentials.
We were locked inside for our overnight shifts and not allowed out till the store manager opened in the mornings. Smokers had to use the cafeteria for breaks, and we used a basic radio budded up to the loudspeakers for our listening pleasures. Everyone who got a vote choose classic rock, and thusly I know all there is pertaining to the subject. For those who had “money”, wore a “walk-man” (before iPod and earbuds existed) and blissfully retreated to the center confines of their musical minds.
The building was one of the first giant conglomerates to enter our small town. The back storage facilities were just as large and in charge as the front store displayed. Rafters for miles and many a cubby to hide-out in. I had to replace all the outdated marketing flyers and change the prices to reflect the current specials and savings. The blue light special, was a flashing lightbulb that would come on outside the store; informing customers a huge discount or bargain was being offered.
The Holidays were actually awesome, when there weren’t any customers! I found a love for towels, rugs, shower curtains, bathroom décor, and the list goes on. This is where my love for home goods birthed. I can fold, like no other, still to this day. Solitary work, but for an introvert, not too shabby. A Christmas fanatic like myself; it was amazing! We decorated, magically, like elves and ensured every inch was perfect for Santa’s expectations and global requirements. I envisioned the little (good) kids opening their presents, Christmas day, and cherishing their tidings and many blessings.
Got to work as scheduled and my manager stated, I was the only one who “showed”. I didn’t have to work, if I didn’t want too; but being the Holidays, I really needed the doubloons. Locked in tight, I went about my list. Thinking I was completely alone, thought best to stay up in the front of the store. Honestly, when I went to the back for my boxes to unload; I got spooked. Truly, thought I heard something back there!
Finished the woven outdoor rug display, by the way, are so heavy in multiples. Carpet generally weighs between 5 and 20 pounds per square yard, so get that dolly if need be. One learns physics when you’re a female and trying to stay in shape. Generally, keeping in shape means avoidance of improper bending and lifting. Always have your back! Now, there was no mistaking, I could definitely hear someone else in the store. I was not alone!
The sound of footsteps was becoming closer. I had heard noises from the back, but figured I was safe up front. It was clear, something wicked was coming my way. Not going to make it to the front phone, and you guessed it, before the days of a handy cell phone in my pocket. So, typical me, I prepared for a battle. I quietly snuck over to the metal curtain rods and grabbed the sturdiest. Anyone, who dares enter my aisle, was going to lose their head!
Your mind races when adrenaline rushes through one’s bloodstream. I’m already a paranoid jittery girl (I can make coffee nervous), and assumed the worst, whilst assuming my position. I had heard kids hiding in between the racks before and a time or two, a customer dozed off in a chair, but this didn’t sound like that. Hopeful wishing coming from my panicked and deluded thoughts.
I was too young to die and not going down without a fight. I held my rod like a primed and prized baseball player up to bat. I prayed the steps would go another way, essentially away from me. It got really deafeningly quiet, and I swear, you could hear my rapidly beating heart rattling around in my cage/chest. There was no place to hide, so I hugged the corner of the aisle waiting to pounce on my intruder. Mind racing: all I have to do, is render my assailant temporarily incapacitated, so I can beeline for help and escape with my life.
Just then and in a split second, I saw a man in dark clothing rounding the aisle. He held up his mop in defense and to counter my curtain rod from striking his head. Oh my God, it’s the janitor, who couldn’t speak English! I almost collapsed on the floor, from relief and laughter! We both let out the biggest dramatic sighs ever, and I told him the harrowing details leading up to his almost bludgeoning demise. He too thought he was left alone. What a night and I chuckled to myself till dawn showed up and unlocked our doorway out from the entrapped abyss.
The Holidays weren’t over and a few nights later, I showed up for another bedraggling graveyard shift. This night started out fun and we had our little Christmas party, a potluck of course. We exchanged white elephant gifts (case of mountain dew) and talked about our festive plans. Found ourselves all in the garden center, so I could admire the newly decorated creations and the many rows of poinsettias. Keon spoke of his family and their island traditions. He missed home immensely and reminisced about family and what that exactly means. We all agreed!
I walked over to the glass doors, just to look out on the night and reflect. Kevin a good friend from school at my side, we momentarily started a conversation regarding how far we’ve come and how far we’re going into the unknown, just around the corner, the bright future upon us. “Hay, does anyone know who that truck belongs too; it just pulled up with no lights,” escaped my wondering lips. All of a sudden, I felt uneasy, again!
Every one of us, now gathered in the garden center looking upon this unknown, potentially threatening and hostile automobile parked in the dark empty lot. Only a foreigner would park over here and not with the others. We all became quite alarmed, when out from behind the truck, steps two men dark clothing with crowbars. I couldn’t see their faces, but both men proceeded towards the store, looking side to side for another’s presence.
“This doesn’t look good,” I exclaimed. I think they’re trying to rob us, was my initial feeling. Not my first rodeo and I loathe rodeos. Crowbars are a dead giveaway, that’s something is amiss, and trouble is afoot. The lights were off, so they couldn’t see us, but we could see them. Maybe fifty yards from the door, I asked Amy, “should we call the police.” I surely didn’t want another “invasion” and their crowbars much sturdier, no match, than my previous curtain rod. I didn’t have time to get a real bat!
Only three of us left surrounding the garden doors; Keon, Kevin, and yours truly. The others ran off to the front entrances and to call for back-up, presumably speaking. “What do we do,” said Kevin, sounding stressed. “I’m thinking they are going to use those crowbars on these glass doors and make their way in,” I said. In a fraction of a second and with all the hype, Keon, anxiously put weight on the metal bar that opens the garden doors, sounding the alarm.
Alarm now blaring, loudly, scared the wannabe intruders and they retreated running back to their truck and speeding off like bats straight from hell. Scared the life out of us as well but relinquished our fears of criminal mischief happening and our very lives at stake. The police showed up and the manager called from his slumber. I felt like we were headed to the principal’s office and detention would be our punishment.
Instead, I quit, for a day job and day walking. I’ve never entertained graveyard shifts or graveyards in general since then. I get to bed before the time I started my overnight shift of ghosts of graveyards, and Christmases’ past. This blue light special, now a motto; “let the midnight special shine ‘er ever-lovin’ light on me and you. Hope you enjoy your holidays this year and that they’re holy days to usher in your new year and last thoroughly with you. Be good to one another and most importantly let love light your way; it’s especially special!
Thank you for reading and joining our festive fun …. more stories to come! This is a disclaimer for anyone who needs one; this story, characters, and specialty places with faces is fictional (kinda) and for entertainment purposes, only. *** The End ***