Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Red Herring

"Oh, my friend, it's not what they take away from you that counts. It's what you do with what you have left."
-Hubert Humphrey

Spouse and I spent a large part of this Saturday waiting in line to buy odds and ends and I could not help but notice the majority of people in line were short tempered and strained. I thought of my mother, as I often do at such times.
My mother works at a checkout in a supermarket. Customers at times have tongues as sharp as swords, with poison-tipped edges. They might make a comment about the futility of her job, or laugh at the crowds she must face at holiday times. Mater deals with it as she sees fit which involves, for the most part, ignoring their rude ways and getting on with her work.
Once upon a time a customer came through with an entire cart full of goods and some fish, fresh and wrapped up in newspaper.
As the fish was passing along the checkout my mother saw, too late, that the customer had neglected to put the package into a plastic wrapper as all customers are requested to do; the juice of the herring was leaking, then, all over the counter.
It was on my mother's hands, her blouse and across the conveyer belt. It was on everything, as a matter of fact, except the customer's own groceries.
It happened about thirty minutes after my mother's work day had begun and her fresh uniform was a disaster of awful proportions.
The customer laughed cruelly and made a snide remark to my mother about her being a terrible mess and that she would carry a stench for the day.
Undeterred, my mother cleaned up as best she was able and continued the process of getting the customer out swiftly for both their sakes.
There was a daily newspaper in the customer's jumble. My mother quietly picked up the newspaper just as her job entailed, scanned its barcode and wiped the sodden counter with said paper before dropping the soggy thing into a grocery bag for the customer to discover later, much later on.
Never before or since has such a guileful, underhand but well-deserved act been performed by my mother. On bad days, thoughts of her fishy exploits keep her spirits up, and mine, too.


Pappy said...

I can relate. Makes my feet hurt just to remember. In my youth, I spent hours stocking and standing at the end of the grocery check-out counter sacking groceries. It is a character building job, and like doctors who are forced to be patients, those who've participated have a greater appreciation for those who still work there. Happy Easter

Beth said...

What a wonderful story and one that I'll keep in mind as I give a smile or a kind word to the lady at the checkout.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Texican- I too have worked like that for years and it does absolutely make you see people in a different light. Particularly in restaurants because I was a waitress, I try to be less fussy and more gentle. I've seen too many obnoxious customers.
Beth- Fortunately there's more customers like you and fewer like the herring woman! It's the right thing to think of people who work hard to serve us. I try to remember that too.
Happy Easter!

mouse (aka kimy) said...

mater was most clever and simply restored a little balance in the universe. I'm sure her act wasn't malicious, just using what was at hand to help clean up the mess!

great story - as usual!

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Kimy, no, Mater is never malicious, just doing what she can to get through!

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