March 18, 2012 by Ronn Ives, under What Really Matters.
I thought you might enjoy this.
Yesterday, the weather was lovely – an unusually fine day on the mid-Atlantic coast – which is deadly for my business since good weather usually causes people to go on picnics, fly kites, lay around at the ocean, or work in their yard. I find myself hoping for good and bad weather at the same time… which means I’m never entirely satisfied.
The antiques business has been slow, but I always have new old items to clean, ledger, tag, and display, so I keep busy. And, I always keep coffee nearby.
One of “The Dreadeds” came marching toward my front doors while I was busying myself: One adult woman and six kids composed of five girls and one boy ranging from ages 9 to 12. “It could be worse,” I muttered to myself, “they could be two year olds…” (And in case you’re thinking “Well, at least they were mainly girls because boys MUST be more of a problem in stores!” – you are WRONG!)
I began to relax after I gave the kids a couple simple reminders (in an adult tone of voice) they “needn’t touch or hold everything in order to enjoy it”… and I could see them LISTENING to me! I also noted that the adult was “Mom” to at least one of them, and quite good at herding and double-checking on everyone. The quiet kids wandered solo. The social ones moved in small clusters encouraging each others’ enthusiasm for this or that “REALLY COOL!” item. “I WANT THAAAT!” “YEH, YOU SHOULD GET IT!!” “OOH, THAAAT IS SOOO COOL!” “YEH, I LOOOOVE IT!”
For some reason, the quiet kids interest me most… maybe because we’re automatically made aware what the others are thinking but the Quiet Ones move silently and thoughtfully… with long pauses at… well, you’re not sure at what sometimes… but they’re busy thinking about something…
A young, very thin, pale Quiet Girl came up to my desk. “Could you tell me more about that “cat picture” up on your wall?”
“Sure,” I said. “It’s a little rug, all cotton, from about 1930. I have it set up so it can hang on the wall like a tapestry.”
“Thank you” she said and mused off… Meanwhile, the Mom is getting all excited about HER childhood being brought back to her by the things in my store, and the Social Kids are “TOTALLY INTO” the Sixties now… at least until they see something great from the Forties, or… or… or… So on it goes, and I know I needn’t worry about them. Everything’s under control. (This is a rare event – one to be relished!.)
“Excuse me” said Quiet Girl, having returned to my desk, “How much does the cat rug cost?”
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Courtney, I THINK it’s $75.00, so that’s probably way out of your budget, huh?”
“Yes, I suppose so.” She whispered away again, and I went back to polishing silver. Courtney had been so polite and thoughtful, I decided I should “check to see” if I was correct about the price.
“Courtney, I’ll go check on the price, in case I’m wrong…”
“Thank you,” she said, “My Mom likes cats, and this could be a surprise present for her birthday.”
Walking up to the area, working my way around furniture on my front display-window stage, and reaching up to look at the price tag hanging from the rug, I’d already decided to drop the price as much as I could. But, it wasn’t going to be enough for this little girl. The tag said $75.00.
“I was wrong about the price Courtney, it’s $55.00, not $75.00.”
“Thank you,” she said, as I walked back to my desk. She began huddling with her other friends and the Mom. I went back to work.
She returned to my desk with her entire entourage behind. “Could I make payments on it, and, if so, how much would I have to give you NOW?” All eyes were on me. I’d never had a child ask for LAYAWAY!
“Courtney, I have two questions for you: One, are you an HONEST person?” She nodded yes, and the Mom at the back of the group nodded a silent, enthusiastic “absolutely!” “Okay then, the second question: are you a RELIABLE person?” She again nodded yes, followed by the same invisible confirmation from the back row.
“Then I tell you what – you discuss this with everyone else here, decide what YOU can afford to do – and I will agree to it.”
“Okay”, said Courtney, and off they went off to determine The Plan.
Through this entire episode, a lone man was shopping on his own and observing these exchanges. Often, the kids were blocking an aisle to such a degree, he had to stand back and wait until things cleared some… but, I could see he was enjoying this experience, so I saw no reason to intervene. I recognized his face. He’d been in before. I’m awful with names, but faces stick with me. I said “Welcome back.” He came up to my desk and reminded me it had been a year since his last visit. He and his wife returned to check out the shop. They were on their way south to Key West to snorkel for his birthday. They live in Canada. She was out in the car with their dog.
“Great kids, huh?” I said.
“Yeh (in that Canadian accent), they really are.” And we chatted about the design of a 1936 outboard motor I have on display. I mounted it to a display stand, and it sits as sculpture. He was considering it. We also talked about owning our own businesses, and doing in Life what seems healthy, interesting, fun, and, hopefully, makes enough money to keep the bills paid.
Courtney came back up. “Could I give you my four dollars as a payment?”
“Sure. Let’s write up your Layaway Agreement.”
Of course, she had no idea I was skipping the barrage of formalities I need with adults. I didn’t even take her phone number. No way was SHE going to dishonor our agreement. No way.
“Okay, here’s your copy, Courtney. I’ll put a “Layaway” sticker on the rug, so no one else can buy it.”
“Thank you,” she said, smiling. She was very pleased.
The Canadian man stepped up and announced to all the kids that he had a dog outside he was willing to bet they’d love meeting, and since “she” needed a drink of water and a walk anyhow, why don’t they come meet “Katie” and his wife? Naturally, all the kids jumped at the chance. Once they were outside with his wife and the truly amazing Katie – a HUGE 250 pound Bouvier des Flandres – the Herding Mom came up to the two of us men still in the store.
“Thanks for your help. Courtney is a wonderful girl. She’s seen very hard times her entire life. She was born with a serious lung disease, and wasn’t supposed to live longer than eight years. She’s proven the doctors wrong. Her Mother surrounds her with love and optimism and prayer, and they do what they have to do to keep her health as good as is possible. Courtney has feeding tubes put into her every night, but she and her Mom take it in stride.”
“She’s a smart, polite, sweet girl, and I just want to help her out,” I said.
There’s not much to say after that… so we all went outside to meet Katie. When I make as large a circle as I can with my two arms, Katie’s rib cage was still larger. We’re talking HUGE. Charles and I talked about dogs. I talked about my dog Shaman and HIS trials throughout his entire life – no immune system, cancers, diets, pills, injections, radiations, surgeries… Katie too has problems, and it’s a daily battle for her. By now it has become clear to me we’ve all together for a Reason.
Katie drank from one of those “travel” jugs of water – you know, that have the pull-up tip on them? Yes, this hairy, 250 pound dog travels with her humans so much, that they can pull into a “convenience” store, buy bottled water, and she’ll take it right from the bottle. Very cool. Very convenient!
Eventually the group’s van filled with the adult woman, five girls and one boy, and they drove up the street, waving goodbye to all of us. Charles told me he’d consider buying the outboard motor and get back to me. I said “Fine, I’ll be at the store again tomorrow, 12 to 5.” Katie and her Canadian humans loaded up into their vehicle, and departed south. I went back inside the store. Time to finish up some silver polishing…
TWO MINUTES later, Charles’ vehicle pulled back up outside. “I wonder if he forgot something?” I looked around for a wallet or cell phone. He came in.
“What did you forget Charles?”
“Nothing. How much does the little girl owe on the cat rug?”
“I want to take care of it.”
“I knew I liked you for some reason,” I smiled. I pulled the receipt, told him it was $51.00, he found $50 in his wallet, and I sluffed off the other dollar along with the discounts I’d already secretly given her.
“How do you want me to handle this?”, I asked.
“Tell her it’s from Katie.”
I beamed. “I will. You’re a good man.” I paused, and added, “I think I’d better close the store for today. I don’t want anything ruining this experience.” We laughed. They headed on.
I decided to “risk” keeping the store open. So went the afternoon.