Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Life - SFBTC

(SFBTC - Stories From Behind The Counter)

Working in a hardware store differs from working in a bike shop. Someone who bicycles is, by definition, an active person. They may be missing a limb or hearing or something but they'll be relatively fit and healthy.

Hardware stores are different because everyone needs them, just like everyone needs a supermarket. Therefore the clientele differs from a bike shop - you get a wider range of people walking into a hardware store.

This includes a new section of society, at least for me: elderly people.

I don't even know the proper term for "old people". It's a bit deceiving too, the term. Is over 60 elderly? Is over 80? Part of it is how you view yourself - there are guys in their 80s who act very sprightly and others decades younger who seem to have lost the will to live.

I've learned one thing about elderly people - it's tough being old. They can be very lonely, aching for human contact and interaction. They make up for it by taking care of animals, either domesticated ones like cats and dogs, or wild ones, usually birds, but in this area people feed squirrels, chipmunks, deer, and even bears. It's illegal to do a lot of that, against the rules for others (especially in condo areas), but they insist. They love their animals, but it seems a bit more desperate because they may not have people to love too.

Elder people have physical problems, problems with walking, hearing, hearts, knees, all sorts of things. I sometimes walk out bags for people, taking four inch long steps to match their pace, taking a minute to cover fifty feet of floor to the front door. I can't imagine having to quickly run away from something in that state, a wild animal or a house on fire.

For many of them the hardware store is part of their social outlet. Since a lot of them have lived in town their whole life, they've known the store just as long (since it was here for at least 50 or 60 years). They come in to catch up on news, to say hi to a friend, or to see how people at the store are doing.

Today an older woman (60s or 70s), a customer known to the store, came into the store to buy some light bulbs. Light bulbs in a hardware store are like tubes in a bike shop - you have tons of them and you sell tons of them. Nothing special about this purchase.

The woman asked about the kittens though, the ones that have been dominating the blog recently. Specifically she asked if I'd found a home for them. I replied that had - mine. I told her the super short version of the story, which goes something like this:

"Well, we couldn't find a home for them so we decided to keep them."

That's my version for those people who really don't care about the kittens, or at least act like they really don't care. This woman acted differently though. I'm not sure what indicated that to me but I felt her concern.

Unusually for today there were no customers waiting behind her so I asked if she had a minute to spare. I explained that I had a bunch of pictures of the kittens on one of the computers, initially meant to "sell" them to prospective adopters, later to show the kitten-fan customers how the kitties were doing.

I did a simple "Preview" for her, forwarding through the pictures. Since I only saved them from the blog, they were pictures previously posted here. They start with the three (Bella, Hal, Riley) on the cat bed, then Mike, Grey (the mom), Tiger with Bella, then ending with Bella and Hal (I think I thought it was Riley) warming their paws on the baseboard heaters.

When I finished she smiled and said something like "Bless your heart" and "Oh, you really care about them" and other nice things.

Then, because it's bitterly cold outside and everyone seems to have the sniffles, she pulled out a tissue. We have a box of tissues hiding under the counter so I offered her a tissue. But when I opened my mouth to ask if she needed a tissue, I said something even I didn't expect to say.

"Are you okay?"

She looked at me and I realized that the biting cold didn't cause those watery eyes. Emotions had. She smiled weakly and told me she was fine in a way that makes you realize that, no, she really wasn't fine.

Apparently she felt like she could tell me her one trouble without feeling self conscious, without feeling like I'd ignore her, and so she did, quietly, murmuring to me.

"I'm sorry. My husband died recently. It's been very difficult for me and it's so nice to see that someone somewhere is doing something good for someone, or something, else."

I think at that point her carefully protected facade started to crack. She smiled through her tears and walked away.

Karen, one of the owners of the store, came walking back to the counter. I mentioned that the woman's husband recently died and did she know about it.

"Yes," Karen told me, "and I gave her a hug when she left the store. I think you helped her by showing her the pictures, that was very sweet of you."

(Karen is a mom with two adult children, can you tell?)

I think the biting cold must have invaded the cozy store because suddenly I needed to blow my nose too.


Admin said...

great post!

i updated my blog.. the rev-x has been reinforced.

stop by when u get a moment and let me know if any of this makes sense!

Il Bruce said...

Kittens. Is there anything they can't do.

Merry Christmas