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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.

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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.

The Christmas Pony

There was one thing that was always on the top of my Christmas list for several years that I never got: a pony.

Granny put her foot down adamantly about that pony.

“Where you think we’re gonna put a pony? What are you going to do with a pony? Do you have any idea how much it costs to feed and take care of a horse?” she asked.

“Not a horse. Pony,” I reminded her.

“You know a pony is the puppy version of a horse, don’t you?”

“I don’t want a full-grown horse, I want to get it as a pony.”

I never got the pony, of course. And that is fine.

The pony was the ultimate bargaining chip, my bluff.

I could be quite convincing to everyone that I wanted a pony.

I overheard Granny and Pop discussing it, with my grandfather saying he had already put out feelers to find me one.

“She’ll want it inside, Bob. I ain’t gonna have a pony in this house. And you know she will. That crazy child will be a-saying she’s gotta cuddle it and sleep with it.”

My uncle was the one who should have been worried; it would have been him who had to feed it.

I would ask daily about the pony.

The kicker was me writing P-O-N-Y in great big letters across the top of my Christmas list every year.

“Why don’t you put some other things on there you’d like, too?” Mama suggested.

“All I want is a pony.  If I can’t have a pony, I don’t want anything.”

“Well, humor Santa and put some other stuff on there in case he can’t carry a pony on his sleigh.”

So, I did.

I put all the things I really wanted.

The Lite-Brite, all the Little House on the Prairie books, Jordache jeans, an Atari, and all the other gifts I wanted, way more than a pony.

I knew there was no way I would get a pony and while I love horses, they terrify me.

Mama was so grateful to see I had something more reasonable on my Christmas list that she got me everything.

Granny, however, caught on after a few years.

“Don’t you even start with this pony mess this year, littl’ un,” she said. “I know your game.”

“What game, Granny? Monopoly?”

She gave me a hard glare through her glasses. “Not Monopoly. Sudie’s pony game. You start around November wanting a pony and carry on and carry on. You know good and well we ain’t getting you a pony, but you also know we’ll feel bad enough about it to get you everything else.”

How did she figure this out? What kind of grandmotherly voodoo powers did she have?

I denied this fact and effectively launched the pony request once again, until the following year, Granny had me declare at the dinner table I had given up on the pony. Or else.

“You try this again and there won’t be nothing on your list under the tree. It will be footy pajamas and underwear.”

The thought of footy pajamas and underwear was enough to make me stop asking for the pony. No kid wants to go back to school after the break and tell their friends they got that for Christmas.

Given my shopping procrastination, I start asking Cole for his list around the beginning of November.

This year, the only thing he mentioned was a Playstation 4 Slim Golden Version.

“That’s all I want, Mama,” he said.

I thought one video console couldn’t be that bad.

Could it?
“Six hundred dollars!” I exclaimed when I saw the price. For one video game console? Was this console able to communicate with the Space Station?

I thought that was excessive but at the same time, felt bad. It was the only thing he wants.

“Is there anything else you would like?” I asked.
He thoughtfully pondered this for a moment. “Hmmm…no, not really. I think I have everything else I want. That’s it.”

I wasn’t exactly sure how I would pull that off. We try to not focus on the price or the gifts but on the meaning of the season.
Still, I stressed and agonized over this.
I looked around online for cheaper ones.

Nope.

“I can’t wait to play the Playstation 4,” Cole said every day. “Thank you so much for getting it for me.”

I cringed inside.

“Cole, what if they are sold out?”

“Oh, they are priced where they won’t be. Don’t worry about that, Mama.”

I groaned.

A few days later, Cole handed me a list.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Just in case they are sold out, Mama. Or you can’t find one or you think it’s too expensive. You know, there’s a lot of reasons why you may not be able to get one for me.”

Sweet, sweet son of a biscuit eater.

My child had beat me at my own game.

His pony was just in the form of a Playstation 4.

“What was Thanksgiving like when you were a little girl?” Cole asked as I was making plans for this week.

“It was nice,” I said, before I gave it much thought.

“Just nice? Was it different in any way?”

What was different? I had to think. When we get caught up in our day to day busy-ness, we forget the moments that became traditions and memories.

My Thanksgiving began when it was still dark, as I wanted to get up as early as possible to enjoy the day. Granny had started cooking the night before when she got off work, and her turkey would already be a golden perfection, just waiting until we all ate.

I would sit in the den, listening to her humming in the kitchen and she would wrap me under a quilt, tucking the end under my feet to keep me warm.

“What do you want for breakfast?” she would ask.

I swear, the old gal was downright sweet when she was cooking. Something about being in the kitchen suited her soul.

“I don’t know,” I would say, knowing what she would offer.

“You want me to fix you a sandwich with the first slice of turkey?”

I would nod and minutes later, she returned with a sandwich of white bread generously coated with mayonnaise, salt, pepper and warm turkey.

“The parade will be on later,” she would tell me, turning on the TV.

Granny spent most of the day in the kitchen but it was worth it – she had homemade coconut and banana cakes; Mississippi mud cake; and sweet potato and chocolate pies. Two separate pans of dressing – one with onions and one without for me and my uncle Bobby.

It was a rare day during the week that I had all of my family home in the same time frame – Pop and Bobby were home, instead of working. Mama usually had worked the night before and with it being a holiday, she normally worked then as well, but she’d watch the parade with me.

Cousins, aunts and uncles would wander in throughout the afternoon to watch part of the football game or just visit.

To me, it was a perfect day.

I don’t even remember any Black Friday sales when I was a little girl – if there was, we didn’t go. Granny had the Sears Wish Book and that’s where she was doing her shopping.

Normally, we were still digesting the day after Thanksgiving.

It changed, when I met my ex, as I started celebrating Thanksgiving with his family.

I never realized how much I missed my own family’s celebration until I got older and things had changed so much it could never be re-created. And, just like that, everything was different.

It was a simple, idyllic time, surrounded by family, during an era free of fear and worry. The news was not filled with horrors or stories that make your heart ache. Or at least it wasn’t for me, because I was a child.

I didn’t know there were things in the world to fear.

How was my Thanksgiving different?

So much has changed in more than 30 years.

The world is such a different place now, a real life dichotomy that can be terrifying and full of hope at the same time. Things are so different now than when I was a little girl.

There’s a more hurried pace and the time together is so much shorter. We are lucky to just have Thanksgiving dinner with family now, those times of Thanksgiving spanning over several days are long gone.

But there we are, we find ourselves surrounded by those we love and are thankful for.

“Not much has changed,” I said, kissing his head. “It’s still a day we focus on all we are grateful for.”

Indeed, and we truly have so much.

http://www.dawsonnews.com/section/30/article/18312/

Hallogivingmas (10/9/2014)

“Mama, why do they have Christmas stuff out already?”

A good question, I thought. It was not even Halloween yet. Heck, this was a few weeks ago. But there among the leftover school supplies and Halloween candy were Christmas stockings and some tinsel.

“They are wanting to get customers into the spirit early I guess,” was my answer.

It seemed wrong to my child. He wanted to make himself have a toothache on Halloween and not feel bad about his gluttony; kind of hard to do if you have perpetual reminders Santa was watching.

“Does it work?” he wanted to know.

I doubted it. They had been moving Christmas up earlier and earlier each year and so far it hadn’t motivated me to shop any earlier. I still did my mad dash on Dec. 23.

The holidays had all become one mushed up rush of blurred lines where we are told to rush, rush, rush from one experience to the next instead of enjoying the memories that are being made during that occasion.

I had frowned when I saw the Halloween costumes being displayed before school started. How can I decide between a witch or fairy princess when it’s too dadblamed hot to even begin to think about putting something latex with faux suede on my thighs in 100-degree weather?

It’s hard to choose what bags of candy to get for yourself and what to get for possible trick-or-treaters if you are trying to remember if all the lights worked on your Christmas tree.

For that matter, I was trying to remember where my little pink tree was. It seemed like Lamar had left it out – it took up precious real estate in the barn that houses bicycle paraphernalia – and I heard him murmur he had to toss it. Maybe I needed to go ahead and buy a new tree? They were already out on display.

I think it goes beyond retailers wanting to maximize shopping days in the fourth quarter. I think it has to do with our rush-rush-rush, instant gratification pace we have come accustomed to. Everything is smooshed together so we can multi-task.

Much like the way we have to stay connected on our phones, checking updates, emails and letting the world know what we are having for dinner – all while pretending to get in quality time with our families as we simultaneously work on something else.

I am guilty of this myself, which is why I know all too well the feeling of being overwhelmingly, hectically rushed.

“Did they have Santas out before Halloween when you were a little girl?” Cole wanted to know, holding a snow globe in one hand, a black cat in another.

No. Back in the olden days of the ‘70s and ‘80s, when life was wonderful despite the polyester and the shag carpet, we had separation of holidays.

Halloween was honored with black and orange taffy, candy corn and plastic masks we couldn’t breathe in.

Thanksgiving was weeks later and was basically the day of honoring football and feasts.

Christmas did not officially kick off until the gaudy green and red streamers were wrapped around the light poles in the Sears parking lot.

Around that same time, maybe a few weeks before, the Sears Wish Book was delivered, which let every child know to get their act together because Christmas was coming. Granny would give me the cherished catalog with instructions to circle the stuff I wanted for Christmas.

“And just because you circle it, don’t mean you gonna be getting it,” she would remind me.

Sometimes, things ran out or were on back order and either Granny picked something else off the list or she asked if I wanted to wait until it was available. Sometimes, I waited. Some things were worth the wait, even if they were for Christmas.

No Black Friday, no Cyber Monday. There wasn’t Amazon drones to deliver, it was real people you’d see bringing the boxes in to the counter. And dangit, it all started in December. We pretty much considered the days after Thanksgiving to be the days we digested – not the days we strove to see how much money we could save by spending oodles at ungodly hours while fighting strangers for Elmo dolls and things we didn’t need.

And somehow, despite the lack of early displays urging us to “believe” and “celebrate,” those memories were special. Simpler, and not memorialized on Instagram and heaven help – Granny didn’t even get a recipe off Pinterest – but they were far more meaningful.

family halloween pic“I want Halloween to be Halloween, and not crammed into Christmas,” Cole said, putting the snow globe back. “Halloween is about candy and magic; Christmas is about Baby Jesus and believing. I can’t keep my holidays straight if they have everything out at once. I want to remember Halloween for what it is, not get everything confused.”

I agreed.

“You don’t think they would lump them all together, do you?” Cole wondered.

“Nah,” I said. “Besides, it’s too long to put Happy Merry Hallogivingmas on a card. Hallmark would have a heck of a time marketing that.”

Unless they could lump Easter in there, then that may be another story.

http://www.dawsonnews.com/section/30/article/15608/

photo: The family celebrating Halloween, 2009. Cole was going as The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, complete with blue blankie and a Snoopy.