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Mama’s retail rules

One thing that can get my Mama up on her indignant high horse quicker than anything has always been customer service, or the lack thereof.

Growing up, I learned to bristle anytime a retail clerk told Mama it was not their job or their department.

She would make a sharp inhaling sound as she drew her hand up in the shape of C.
“Do you see this C? It stands for customer. That is what I am. And the customeris always right!”

The salesgirl would normally scurry off in search of someone in a higher pay scale to deal with the crazy redhead, as Mama stood her proverbial ground, Virginia Slim in hand.

Mama pulled out the C once when we were shopping for a debutante ball gown.

Going shopping for a formal required a trip to a mall other than Georgia Square, so we took a day – a whole day– off from school and work to go. Even Granny went, figuring we would need protection, deliverance or bail money if we ventured outside the county line.

After trodding through multiple stores, Granny decided to go back to the car.
“She ain’t never gonna find a dress she likes,” the old gal declared. “I ain’t never seen such a wishy-washy child.”

I was not wishy-washy; I just knew what I liked and so far, had not seen it.

Finally, after going into several more stores, I found it. A royal blue strapless dress with a full, fluffy skirt.

“This is the one I want,” I said.
“You need to try it on first,” Mama said. “I am not going through this again if you need to bring it back.” She grabbed the hanger only to find the dress secured to the rack by some locked cable.

I guess shoplifting mountains of taffeta and tulle was a thing in the ‘80s.

There was no sales clerk in the immediate area, so Mama went to the closet department where she saw an employee.

“Would you please call someone who can unlock the formal wear to come help us, please?” she asked.

The girl didn’t even look up but continued to pick her cuticles.

“That’s not my department,” she said.

Uh oh.

“Excuse me?” Mama said.

“I said, that’s not my department.”

Double uh oh.

Mama bristled and pulled herself up to her full height. “I didn’t ask you what your department was. I asked you to call someone for that department.”

The girl looked up long enough to roll her eyes. “You will need to go find someone yourself.”

That was it. The final straw. The comment that broke the crazy redhead’s sense of decorum.

“I will not go find someone. I already did, and I asked her — that’s you, in case you missed it – to call someone. I do not have an intercom to page someone. And if I did, I would be paging the manager!” Her hand came up, making the C and I knew what was coming. “Do you see this C? Do you know what it stands for?”

I bolted out the door and across the parking lot, hoping I could find Granny.
I found the old gal, sitting in her Oldsmobile, eating cookies.
I banged on the window, startling her. “What in the devil is wrong? You almost made me drop my snickerdoodle.”

“Mama is doing the C,” I began breathlessly. And when did she get the cookies? “I found the dress, but Mama is going after some sales girl in luggage.”

Granny frowned and put her cookie back in the bag in her purse. “Lord, have mercy. Let’s go save that poor girl.”

Mama was schooling the store manager on customer service when we returned. “Where have you been?” she asked me when she saw me. She shoved pounds of blue taffeta at me. “Go try it on. Now.”

In the dressing room, I could hear her continued barrage. “Maybe if you had enough people working, I would not have had to walk to another department. Did you think about that? It is the holidays. You need to be properly staffed to meet customer needs.”

We got the dress and left, Mama fussing all the way home about how people no longer took pride in their jobs and didn’t have a clue about customer service.

“You need to be nicer to the sales clerks, Jean,” Granny said.

“They need to be nicer to customers!” Mama retorted.

“That poor girl was probably making minimum wage and you were chastising her – it was not her department. She was in luggage.”

“You missed the whole thing, Mama. I asked her to call someone to that department; she was too busy watching her nails grow to help me. I am nice. I am beyond nice. But the reason she has a job is to help customers.”

When I worked in retail, Mama’s lectures on good customer service stayed in my mind.

And the holidays could be the worst.

I would be in the middle of a sales floor, sometimes with just one other employee, trying to help scores and hordes of customers.

People would get upset. Some would be frustrated if they had to wait in line. We were short staffed, overworked, underpaid, and usually out of whatever they wanted to buy.

But none, not one, gave me the C.

I made sure I was courteous and cordial, and not once did I say, “not my job.” I thanked all the customers with a smile and wished them a Merry Christmas.

I did have over 20 years of prior training.

The other day, a friend posted a graphic on Facebook reminding people that retail workers were away from their own holiday celebrations when they were waiting on them and that patience and politeness were important. Maybe I should send a copy to Mama.

An untraditional tradition

I used to marvel at Granny’s Thanksgiving turkey-ing.
Golden brown on the outside and moist and delicious inside.

I had no idea how she did it, and she wasn’t sharing her secrets with anyone.

Her turkey was so decadent one could eat it free of gravy and without any of the accompanying sides. It was good enough to stand alone.

When I finally decided to try my hand at cooking the bird, I did a decent job.

Even the old gal said so herself, although she had thrown in her commentary about what she would do differently.

“Did you thaw your bird out long enough, Sug?” she asked, her tone telling me she thought I had not. “And next time, make sure you cook it longer on low, instead of trying to rush it.”

My husband only had Granny’s turkey a couple of times before she quit making it; I don’t think my child ever had the honor of blessing his taste buds with it. A deprived childhood, in my opinion.

My child only had memories of disgusting Thanksgivings.

The year Granny put the turkey in the pressure cooker, yielding a mess that the evil beagle refused to eat, and she ate, well, I am sure you know what beagles eat.

The following year, Mama ordered something equally uneatable.

The next year, I tried ordering a complete dinner that was supposed to be already cooked and just needed it reheating.

Cracker Barrell made the dinner the following Thanksgiving.

While tasty, it felt weird not to have a carcass to shove back into the fridge when we got done.

Thanksgiving, which is usually such a joyous holiday marked by eating and football, had become a day where we dreaded eating.

“I don’t really like turkey,” Lamar confessed when I was trying to figure out what to make this year.

If I was honest, I didn’t either. If it wasn’t Granny’s, it wasn’t really fit to eat.

“As far as I am concerned, we can just have the sides,” he continued.

“What kind of sides are we talking about?” Cole wanted to know.

“Well, you have to have potatoes,” Lamar began.

“Two kinds of potatoes,” I said. “It is Thanksgiving. It is completely acceptable to have two kinds – some kind of sweet potato and mashed.”

They agreed.

“Mac and cheese?” I suggested. Both nodded.
“Peas?” Cole added.

Of course, peas. You can’t have mashed potatoes and not have peas.

“Some kind of roll,” Lamar offered.

I nodded, wondering which would be best: biscuit or roll.

“What about dessert?” I asked.

“Pie,” Lamar said.

“What kind?” I asked.
“Apple,” Lamar said.
“I don’t like apple.”

“I do. Cole does,too.”

“Cole likes any pie,” I said.

“What kind do you like?”

“Pecan, lemon meringue, or key lime.”

“Maybe cake?”

“I can make a cake,” I agreed.

“Do we need anything else?” Cole asked.

“Like what?”

“Could you make salmon?” he asked.

I could. Salmon croquettes sounded better than turkey and wouldn’t take as long.

“So, our menu is a bunch of sides, salmon croquettes, and cake?”

They both nodded.

“Neither of you will miss turkey?”

Both shook their heads.

“Alright. That’s what we’re doing.”

A turkey-less Thanksgiving is what it will be. And with it, the beginning of an untraditional tradition.

A strong-willed woman

I have learned something recently.

Being a strong-willed woman is a bit of a blessing and a curse.

I can’t help how I am, I can’t.

It’s in my blood to be strong-willed or stubborn.

Upfront and unflinching.

Some people call it a few other names.

But it is something I can’t help.

Passivity is not something I do well, nor am I weak or subservient.

Having the opposite characteristics of these traits is not always welcomed in the company of some.

Again, it can get you called some pretty ugly names if you are a woman – behind your back and even sometimes to your face.

When a man stands up for himself or states his opinion passionately, he is called an alpha male; a woman, it seems, is supposed to smile and nod and keep her thoughts to herself lest she come across as negative.

A man complaining is a simply voicing what needs to be done; a woman is whining and bitter, even if she is making valid points.

Some people may appreciate this dynamism.

But it’s not a personality for everyone.

“You must have had a mouthy mother raising you,” someone said in an accusatory tone one day.

“Nope,” I replied. “Mama is very gentle and kind; she just doesn’t take any guff off anyone.”

No, the crazy redhead can’t be blamed for the way I am. Nor can the elder redhead.

Those two gave me examples but they aren’t the cause.

I’d likely place the blame on my grandfather and uncle, with them encouraging me to speak my mind and defend my position when necessary.

Both never had a problem with Granny being stubborn and strong-willed; if anything, my Pop seemed to encourage it.

“Chicken,” he would begin, calling her by his pet name for her. “You need to deal with these folks. They ain’t listening to me.”

I couldn’t imagine someone not listening to my grandfather. He could be quite imposing himself. But Granny had a way of stating her purpose that made people take notice.

Being tenacious and unshakeable are just not traits that are considered feminine.

But whenever something happened when I was younger, it would be my grandfather telling me to stand my ground.

“Don’t you let someone run over you,” he would tell me. “I taught you better than that.”

When I got older, and started working, I found that could be problematic in the workforce.

Some people want you to ignore any problems that exist and not make waves or changes, even if they are for the better.

I quickly grew frustrated with some of the things that were occurring and said so.

Big mistake. Huge.

My words were not welcomed.

“They don’t want things to get better,” I told Mama. “They just want things to be the same and us just suck it up and deal with it.”

“That’s life,” she replied. “Stand up for what you can, for what is worth the fight, and let the rest go.”

But I couldn’t.

I would get upset and voice my complaints and concerns. I would fight for the underdog.

I would be as pigheaded and determined as my grandfather could be until I would reach a breaking point and quit.

“That’s why your granddaddy has been self-employed most of his life,” Granny said. “He can’t stand people telling him to do foolish things.”

I could see his point.

But foolishness was rampant it seemed.

There have been a few places that embraced my strong-willed expressions and allowed me to be myself. Even if it was just a matter of letting me just be able to speak my peace.

Finding a way to express myself in a way that does not come across as strident or unyielding is something I have been trying to work on but doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, I am not able to find that balance.

But why should I have to?

Why is so wrong for me to be strong-willed? Or stubborn?

Or maybe even a little bit of a mess at times?

Is that really such a bad thing?

Maybe it would be easier if I was just more ladylike and quieter. Maybe I should keep my opinions to myself and not try to stand up for things as much.

Or maybe I will try to take the bite out of my tone.

I have tried in the past.

I don’t know that it is really possible.

Nor that I really want to change.

A matter of miscommunication

Frantic.

That is one word to describe how I felt, yet it did not do the emotions rushing through my body justice.

I was wrought with outright fear and anxiety.

My child was not where he said he would be.

Or more succinctly, where I thought he would be.

When I last saw him, I asked him who was with him; he told me he was going one place, so I thought he was with his friends.

When I went to round him up, he was not there. I asked another parent – she had not seen him, but told me where her kids were.

Since my child is always in search of food, I thought it was quite possible he had been scrounging for a rogue granola bar or leftover Halloween candy.

I found his bookbag outside my office, so I took it to my car before going off to find him.

“I better go back through the building; he may be looking for me,” I thought.

I got to where I thought he would be and where he should be; only, he wasn’t there.

I took a deep breath.

Surely he was in the building somewhere, I just didn’t see him yet.

I walked around the top floor looking for him. Nowhere.

On the lower level, I found one of his friends and asked her if she knew where he was.

He had told her he was going where I was the last time she saw him.

And that was when he told me he was going with them.

Anger was the new emotion coursing through my body.

Had he lied to me?

I made my way through the building in a frenzied pace, hoping I would find him.

He was nowhere.

I headed back to another building to see if he was there, anger, fear, anxiety and worry brewing.

My heart was in my throat; was he OK? where was he?

And again…had my child lied? If so, why?

I thought I caught a glimpse of him as I walked back up the hill and called his name.

No response.
Was it not him?

I kept waiting for him to catch sight of me and come running but nothing.

The few yards I had to walk seemed to take an eternity until I got up to the building and finally saw him coming around the other side.

“There you are,” he said, “I have been looking for you.”

I was immediately relieved, grateful and wanted to sob I was so happy to see him. But, in true fashion, I did what all the women in my family do when scared out of our wits.

I yelled at him. Or more accurately, screamed. Irish banshee, soul rendering screams.

All the way home.

I am not even sure what I said, other than, “Where were you and what were you thinking?”

I am sure it was much worse than that because I was in an anxiety fever fit.

I had been looking for him for 20 minutes and every imaginable horror that could happen to my child had raced through my mind.

When I saw he was safe and sound, I unleashed locusts on his little mop top self.

After we got home, I continued my rant.

“You just need to calm down,” Lamar said.

Even though I have no empirical evidence to support this claim, I am pretty sure saying that to a hysterical woman has only proved to worsen the situation.

I texted Mama to let her know I was home, because even though I am nearly 46 years old, she wants to know I am safe. Wanting to know your child’s whereabouts, no matter how old and grown they were, was never more tacit than at this moment.

“Home –too exhausted and upset to talk. Talk later.”

“What’s wrong? Are you OK?” was her immediate response.

“Just really upset and don’t want to rehash.”

So she did what any mother would do – even this mama.

She called.

“What’s wrong?” she repeated her question.

I briefed her on the events of the last 40 minutes.

“Bottom line, if he had just been where I told him to be – which was with me – to begin with, this would not have happened. I have let him have too much freedom.”

She was quiet. Unusually quiet. Normally, Mama is the one who defends Cole, her only grandchild, no matter what and things that would have gotten me whoopings for days, she waves away and tells me to let it slide.

This time, she wasn’t so quick to defend.

“Put Cole on the phone,” she said sternly.

I handed him the phone.

He quietly talked to his grandmother for 15 minutes before handing the phone back to me.

“We have discussed what happened,” Mama began. “It was a matter of miscommunication, but, we came up with some ways to avoid it in the future.”

“There won’t be any future incidents,” I said. I was being irrational I know, but I was still shaking.

“You can’t do that, Kitten,” she said quietly. “You can’t do that with him, no more than I could do that with you when you were his age. He is a good kid. Remember that. A good kid. But still a kid. And sometimes, you have to give him chances, even if it means he messes up.”

“How are you so calm about this?” I asked.

“Because,” she began, “I know how that feels. Oh, how I know that feels. It’s an awful feeling. But, he thought you heard him tell you where he was going and you didn’t. It was, as I said before, just a miscommunication. That’s all.”

Mama did something Granny in all of her infinite, omnipotent power and wisdom had never been able to do.

Mama was somehow on both of our sides.

 

Never Too Old

“Is Cole too old to trick or treat now?”

Mama’s question came out of the blue and kind of knocked the wind out of me.

Too old to trick or treat? Was there such a thing?

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“Is he going this year?” Mama asked.

I wasn’t sure.

We haven’t really gone in the last few years.

We tried to go to a church event last year but it was so cold, we breezed through the parking lot of the trunk-or-treat and went and bought some candy instead.

The year before, I can’t even remember what we did.

And there was one year we went to a haunted house that was supposed to be ‘kid friendly’ and I was the one who ended up having an existential breakdown.

“There was a room full of doll’s heads hanging from the ceiling. Dolls. You know how I feel about dolls. They are the illegitimate first cousin to clowns,” I explained.

Mama was aware of my feelings about dolls.

That was actually the last time we really did anything to celebrate Halloween.

I was shocked and a little saddened.

Halloween is my favorite holiday.

But, I had lost my Halloween spirit.

How did this happen?

Maybe it was because my beloved skulls and macabre décor were sandwiched between turkeys and Christmas lights on store shelves.

It was hard to feel a need for spookiness when you were bombarded with wreaths.

Part of me wondered if my child thought he was too old.

He hadn’t mentioned a costume in a few years, and it was something we always enjoyed planning.

Did he think he had outgrown trick or treating?

Some people get angry when they see teens and tweens partaking in the holiday.

It is not something that ever bothered me.

To me, it is kind of speaks to an innocence.

We have so many monsters out there in the world, it is nice to have a night we can pretend to be witches, warlocks, and dragon slayers.

I say let them be kids as long as they want.

Was he maybe over the day I had hyped up since his birth?

He still gets excited when the bags of candy filled the aisles and we had grabbed up new decorations earlier this month.

He still wanted to watch marathons of our favorite horror movies and just recently, got his own copy of The Shining, the only Jack Nicholson movie he likes.

Had I maybe killed the joy of Halloween for him?

Had I forced a frivolity upon him that he didn’t want or enjoy?

Sometimes, too much of a good thing can be bad; just like eating Reese’s can have its limits.

If he has outgrown trick or treating, he is officially ‘grown’ in some regards. Too old to make believe, too old to pretend in the magic of the night, and to have fun in simple frights.

My little twisted heart was heavy for many reasons.

And then — “Am I going trick or treating this year?” Cole asked.

“Absolutely.”

“What should I go as?” he pondered. “Are you going to dress up?”

Am I going to dress up? What kind of question was that?

“I thought about Bart Curlish,” I began. “Or maybe – wait for it – the Queen. Then I would have to get a corgi. Or, Velma. I always liked her better than Daphne, you know?”

My list ran on and on.

See.

You’re never too old.