At Tony's Market in Oak Bluffs this week, the cashier is suddenly not just a celebrity but a good luck charm. Charlene Radcliffe, the one behind the counter wearing a Santa hat and a big grin, just scratched her way to one humongous Christmas gift.
The take on her $5 lottery ticket Monday morning was $250,000, a one-in-a-million shot according to the lottery statistics.
Now guess what, she says, standing next to the rolls of lottery tickets at Tony's, "They want me to pull 'em like I have some kind of magic touch."
Ms. Radcliffe's magic act took place Monday, not long after she opened up Tony's at 6 a.m., just like she does six days a week.
"I usually buy tickets, but I had kind of slowed down because of Christmas spending," she says. "But I bought a $5 ticket and scratched it. I just went crazy. Sometimes you think you see something so I called the coffee girl over."
Right there on the spot, Ms. Radcliffe, who spent 31 years working for the telephone company in New York city, rang up her boss and told him she was taking the day off and headed straight for Braintree to claim her check for a $170,000 after taxes.
"I really don't even believe it yet," she says. "It's just unbelievable."
But the check's in the bank, and the 59-year-old, who first started coming to the Island in the summers when she was a child, knows where she wants to put the bulk of her winnings.
"I'll pay off my bills, pay off my car," she says. "And I want to buy a house."
Her housing right now is a winter rental in Oak Bluffs. "I had money before, and I squandered it," she says. "Hopefully, I'll do a better job this time."
Meanwhile, Ms. Radcliffe is basking in the glory. Tony's Market is a close-knit operation where the line between customers and clerks is thin, possibly even nonexistent.
On Christmas Eve morning, they came streaming in. Word had even spread to Brazil, and good wishes were sent from South America by one young woman who strolled by the counter.
Another man came up to Ms. Radcliffe and said, "What are you doing here? You should be home or on vacation."
But Ms. Radcliffe has no intention of quitting the 30-hour-a week job. First off, she knows that even a check for $170,000 is no free ticket into the pricey Vineyard housing market. Plus, her spot at Tony's keeps her in the mix. As one woman at Tony's put it, "Charlene's always been a celebrity."
Indeed, the Santa regalia isn't just another lottery winner gone goofy. "I wear this Santa hat from Dec. 10 up until the 25th every year," says Ms. Radcliffe.
She spent most of her working life in the Bronx as the information operator and then as a manager for the phone company. Her heart is tied to the Vineyard, and as soon as she retired in 1994, she moved here.
Last year, she moved down to North Carolina to be closer to her family, a niece and a brother. After a year, she realized she hated being away from the Island.
"I used to call her on the phone and cry," she says, pointing to her friend and co-worker who shares the counter duties. "I've been here since April, and I open the store every morning."
For Ms. Radcliffe, Oak Bluffs holds happy memories. "My brother was one of the first coin divers down here," she says proudly.
As of Christmas Eve, she hadn't even called him to tell him the news. She was saving that for Christmas Day. Plus, she plans on sending back the envelope he sent, which she figures contains a gift of cash, something in ample supply on her end right now.
But Ms. Radcliffe also figures she may be on a roll and wants to try her luck in the big leagues. Tomorrow, she and her pal from Tony's are planning a trip to the Foxwoods casino in Connecticut.
"I try not to go overboard, and I'll be a little more conservative now," she says about gambling.
As for Monday's big pay-off, she adds, "It was just the luck of the draw and my guardian angel."
Ms. Radcliffe works in a busy spot when it comes to playing the lottery. Tony's Market sold over $1 million in lottery tickets last year, second on the Island only to Woodland Variety in Tisbury, which sold almost $1.2 million in tickets.