When the favors run out

One of the recurring themes Mama has tried to instill in my life is how to treat people.

Kindness, of course, is tantamount.

Saying ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ along with other pleasantries should always be offered.

And maybe even more importantly, was Mama’s preaching about how people should not be used.

Perhaps the reason that lesson was so essential to Mama was it was something she learned firsthand when she was a child.

Mama was enjoying a bag of animal crackers one day, something she probably was just tickled that my uncle, Bobby, hadn’t hoodwinked her out of. His little cunning self normally tricked her into paying him for something she already owned outright.

So, there she was, enjoying her little cookies when the other kids came up asking her to share.

Mama, being the kind-hearted person she has always been, agreed.

The other kids were nice to her and wanted to play with her, as long as she had the cookies.

Once the cookies were gone, so were they.

When she asked them to play the next day, they asked if she had more cookies. She told them no. They didn’t want to play.

“That was awful,” I said when she recounted the story to me.

“It was,” she began. “But it taught me an important lesson. Some people are only nice to you as long as you can do things for them. Once you no longer can, they are gone.”

It pained me to think my Mama had been treated like that.

Even more painful is the realization that its not just kids wanting cookies that behave that way.

The morale of Mama’s story has played out quite repeatedly in my life and more frequently as an adult.

It’s a bit off-putting to have people only think of you when they need something.

There have been several times that people have contacted me out of the blue and free of preamble requesting advice, time, and other assorted favors that haven’t spoken to me in years.

A few even skip the fake pleasantries of “How have you been?” and launch right into what they want me to do for them.

As Granny would say, “If you can’t say boo to me the rest of the time, don’t come a-calling when you need me.”

Actually, she would say something a heck of a lot harsher and more vulgar, but I can’t put that here; I am sure you catch the drift of it though.

It has made me highly aware of who filters into my life only when they need something and who is always around, even if just in the background to pop in to say hey from time to time.

What can be the most shocking is the people that I haven’t spoken to in years – years, mind you – seem to have no hesitation in asking for favors.

“Is it something you are able to do?” Mama asked.

“Yeah,” I sighed.

“Then why do you not want to?”

I sighed again. Didn’t she get it? She remembered how she was treated when the cookies ran out. Kind of the same situation, in my opinion.

Mama weighed my complaint and told me I had a legitimate one. “But don’t be so quick to dismiss someone, Kitten,” she said. “If you can help them, do so. We’re supposed to be good to each other.”

I hate it when she does that – she always has a way of reminding me to be the bigger person, and sometimes, I just don’t want to.

Much like Granny would, I think that kind of behavior shouldn’t be rewarded by taking the high road but by telling the person they are a jerk.

“Mama, I am not dismissing them; I am just tired of people only contacting me when I can do something for them. That’s not friendship. It’s usery.”

Usery isn’t a real word but it should be. Especially in this situation.

“I am just saying if you can help someone, if it is in your power to do so, you should. We’re supposed to help one another. If you don’t want to be friends with this person, then you should tell them that as well.”

I didn’t consider the person a friend; more like an acquaintance with no boundaries.

“Well, if you don’t want to help them, maybe send them to someone who can. Just don’t be mean to them; there’s enough meanness in the world anyway and they evidently consider you a friend.”

“But, Mama,” I began weakly.

I really had no argument.

There are just different types of people in the world.

Those who are made by their Mamas to be good, decent people. And those who will use those people up until the favors run out.

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The depreciation of loyalty

Not that long ago, being loyal was a commendable trait.

It was something that people looked for in others, and that people strived to be in personal and business relationships.

Being loyal was praised, noteworthy, and, at times, rewarded, as Granny discovered one morning.

The old gal came in giddy as a school girl with a cupcake, clutching a small silver tray in her hands.

“Lookey what I got,” she exclaimed, showing off her pretty.

“What is it?” Mama asked, barely looking up from her crossword.

“It’s a silver tray,” Granny said.

“What did you get it for?” Mama asked.

“It was a gift,” Granny said.
“That’s nice,” Mama replied.

“Don’t you want to know who gave it to me?” the old gal asked.

Mama sighed, realizing Granny was not going to leave her to her crossword in peace until she did. “Okay, who gave it to you?”

“I got it at Sanders’ furniture. I went by there to look at recliners – your daddy is about due for a new chair – and I popped in and they called me over there and gave me this lovely silver tray.” She held it up for Mama’s inspection. “Ain’t it fancy?”

Now, the little silver tray was not anything super special. It was maybe about 5 inches long and three inches wide, not big enough to be used as a serving tray, so I had no idea what use Granny would have for it.

But to Granny, it was one of the finest things she had.

It was free, and it was given to her in a gesture of appreciation, two things the old gal loved.

Mama was suddenly intrigued. “They gave you that just because you were in there looking at a chair?” she asked.

“Yup. It was for customer appreciation. I ain’t heard of that before, but I sure do like it. I think other places need to start giving me something when I go in there.”

Mama twisted her mouth. “I bought a sofa and loveseat in there last month. Where’s my tray?”

“You’ll need to go up there and get it,” Granny said.

And Mama did. She delayed finishing her crossword long enough to drive to town to find out what this customer appreciation thing was about.

When she returned, she had her own tray. We were suddenly a two-tray family then. But more importantly, Mama and Granny felt like their business was appreciated, which made them loyal customers.

Being valued as a customer was something that for a brief while was the norm.

Even if it the little gifts were branding for the business to give them free advertising, it was a token of appreciation and made us feel good about doing business with the company.

At least until some places started offering discounts and incentives to entice people to switch from their tried and true companies. It worked too. People would fall for the bait and change who and where they did their business.

Not me. I came from a family that had two silver trays because of their loyalty.

Several years ago, I called to see if I could take advantage of a special deal with our then satellite service.

“That’s just for new customers,” I was told.

“I have been a customer for eight years,” I protested.

“I see that your contract is up,” the rep told me.

“What does that mean?”

“It means we can set you up as a new customer, which would give you the special rate for two years and give you new receivers.”

“And after two years?”

“After two years, just tell us you need to set up a new account again.”

That part was a lie.

But, I still stuck with them for about five more years until I finally switched to another one. It was only after some horrible customer service experience made me pull the plug, but I did.

The new satellite service seemed thrilled to have my business, too.

I still felt ambivalent about the whole thing. I had been a long-time customer of the other company; didn’t they care they lost my business?

Just a few weeks ago, I needed to replace a phone.

I have been with my cell phone provider for 12 years and through many, many phones.

Not only did I need to replace one phone, I wanted to add a line for my child.

I went in to the store and asked what phones I could get for free – I am all about free. I get it honestly; remember the silver trays?

I was told there were no free options for me and they would not be able to waive activation fees.

“But, if you were a new customer you could get brand new iPhones.”

“Are you kidding me?”

The guy who barely looked older than my teenager didn’t even blink. “Oh, no. I don’t kid about free iPhones. But you can’t get the offer if you are a new customer.”

Needless to say, I left.

I called a few days later and was told the same thing.

“If you were a new customer, we could give you free iPhones. But, you’re not. You’ve been with us a while.”

“So, I am basically punished because I have been a loyal customer?” I asked.

The person on the other end of the phone didn’t respond.

I went online to a competitor. “Looking to switch and add a line,” I wrote in the window.

“We are so happy to have you! Let me tell you the awesome deals we have for you!”

It was a bittersweet victory.

The company I had been with for close to 13 years didn’t seem to care they were losing my business – they were giving away free iPhones, so there were dozens of people to take my place.

But the new cell phone company was delighted to have acquired my business.

I felt dirty, used and abuse.

All I wanted was a free phone.

But unlike the days of the silver trays, customer loyalty was not rewarded.