My mom always had a strong work ethic. There were six children so I guess she didn’t want a bunch of kids laying around unemployed. With the candles barely blown out on my sixteenth birthday, she had me fill out various job applications while she drove around town from business to business. Nothing really solidified into work until just before the holiday season when stores were hiring in expectation of a high volume of shoppers.
This was during the time period when Montgomery Ward still existed near our home at a local mall. She saw an ad in the paper and thought this was a wise idea as a first job. Not considering that I had never worked before, she was overjoyed when she found out I was hired. For me, not so much. This meant no more freedom after school to study and relax until it was time to go to bed.
She excitedly drove me to my first day of orientation. I felt anxiety on the way there, but I didn’t speak of it. I was sullen and quiet in the front seat of the car as she chirped away about how much I was going to love it. Not so much.
On our first day, we had to sit in a classroom in an attic while an elderly lady tried to teach us the cash register. This was before the electronic scanner that basically does the job for the employee. This archaic system ranked right up there with chiseling figures into a stone with another stone. That method would have been a Godsend.
“If the sale is credit, then you have to push this button, this button, this button and make sure to add in tax if its taxable, and then this button, this button and then total.”
“Now, if it’s cash…that’s a whole different story.” I heard the words coming out of her mouth but my mind had completely shut down.
They put us in front of cash registers and had us practice. I got every single transaction wrong. I recall her lips pursing as she looked at me with her bifocals that were attached to a chain.
“You will catch on, dear,” she assured me. Not so much.
Within the week, I had been assigned to the women’s clothing department where I spent hours folding and rearranging items on racks and tables. I believe during my first working hours it was noted what a nightmare I could cause if left to the ringing up of sales, so they made me useful in the clean up of the store.
While I appeared to be busy, I also was mentally calculating how much time I had left before I could punch out for the evening. I had homework to do and this job left very little time for that and enough sleep.
None of this seemed to phase my mom. She was thrilled that I was employed. Meanwhile, the store was trying to figure out what to do with me. Similar to finding a spot on a team for the ‘non-athletic’ player, I was being shuffled around from department to department with the hopes that I would find a place that fit.
I found myself one Sunday afternoon in the hardware section. If the cash register wasn’t my thing, this was a total disaster. Men approached and asked me about tools, extension cords, and holiday lights. I believe my glazed over look gave me away. Luckily, I had another employee helping alongside of me who quickly took over to fill in the blanks. I was never so happy to see that day end.
A month went by and I was counting the days that my seasonal job would come to an end. I was now assigned to the toy department which should have been exciting. Because of my lack of register skills, I was often made to stand next to the one ringing up the sale, and I was the official bagger. If the store was slow, I was often sent upstairs into the hanger room.
Imagine the biggest space ever filled with hangers of all shapes and sizes. Employees were notorious for throwing them all over instead of hanging them up. I was instructed to untangle any of them that had gotten stuck to one another and sort all of them. To most, this would have been a curse. I was actually glad to escape the sales floor and spend time alone. Often, I wouldn’t come back down until it was time to leave. No one seemed to notice my absence, and the hanger room was the tidiest it had ever been.
One day near to Christmas, the human resource person who had hired me saw me by the time clock punching in for my shift.
“Hi,” she said as she walked by.
“Hi,” I replied. “Can you tell me when this temporary job will end?”
She thought I was concerned about no longer having employment.
“You still have some time left here, Chris. I wouldn’t worry about it ending.”
“No. I wasn’t worrying about it being over. I was wondering when I am done here.”
She gave me a funny look when she realized the point I was trying to make.
“We usually have temporary staff stay through New Year’s Day so if customers do returns we can have extra help for that.”
“Okay. I was just wondering.”
She sauntered off to find her next cigarette.
My goal was not be hired or asked to stay, and I was making it clear to her to put me on her ‘naughty list’ so she wouldn’t consider me as permanent. I probably didn’t have a chance anyway. However, if I wasn’t asked to stay, then I would be free to pursue another job. Maybe one more to my liking. Otherwise, if my mom got wind that they wanted to keep me, she would insist I stay. I was making sure that would NOT happen.
My position in the toy department was the last place they could put me, and the busiest, so they kept me there. As the holiday drew near, the store was beginning to run out of toys. To make it worse, the fervor of the Cabbage Patch Doll hit. (If you are too young to know what that is, Google it. It’s actually a dark time in American history for the consumer, and you will learn something valuable from it)
Everyone would rush the counter in a frenzy asking if we had any. Most of the time we were sold out, but on the rare occasion we would get a shipment. The store, in a money making move, advertised the dolls at a rock bottom price and purposely didn’t order enough. Our stock of the dolls ran out quickly but the customers pursing them did not. To console the parent, grandparent, aunt and every other relative on the planet who absolutely had to have this hot commodity for Christmas, we offered them a rain check. They could reserve a doll when another shipment came in after Christmas. They could prepay the low price and hand the slip of paper to a small child on Christmas Eve.
Needless to say, this did not appeal to anyone who wanted a doll in their grip.
In a rather bad decision, I was told to man the register the day before Christmas Eve. The store was packed with hot, crabby, harried people. During every sale, the lady next to me had to tell me what buttons to push in order for the purchase to go smoothly. Fortunately, she was the grandmotherly type and took much pity on me. The line was long as we methodically tried to serve each person.
A rather large woman with a voice to match huffed up to stand in front of me.
“I am here to get a Cabbage Patch Doll for my granddaughter.”
That’s wonderful, I thought…if we had any.
“We are all sold out, ” I said preparing to launch into my speech on how a rain check would guarantee the price and the doll could be picked up in January.
Before I could say another word, the tirade began.
“What do you mean they are all gone? There is an ad right here with a price! This is false advertising.”
I tried to point out the small print on the bottom of the page where it said ‘while supplies last’ but she wasn’t having any of it.
I saw sweat drip from her forehead as she held a Barbie doll in each hand. She began waving them around wildly.
“This is unheard of! I want to speak to a manager right now! I need to get that doll for my granddaughter! I came here to get one, and I am leaving with one.”
I glanced over at the elderly woman who was trying to ring up a sale on the cash register next to me.
“I will call someone for you,” she said politely.
“I do have rain checks,” I said quietly.
“I didn’t come here for a rain check. I came here to get the doll!” I saw all the shoppers behind her visibly sigh in a chorus.
While she waited and held up my line, she placed her credit cards on my register.
After speaking to the manager who kindly explained the situation almost word for word in the same way I had, her anger exploded.
“I came here for a doll! Not a rain check!”
Without warning, she looked directly at me and whipped a Barbie at my head. I dodged as she flung the other one in my direction. Thankfully, she had bad aim.
“If I can’t have a Cabbage Patch Doll then I don’t want those either!”
I thought about how little time I had left at this job and my heart silently rejoiced.
In a storm of fury, she pushed people out of her way and headed for the exit.
The manager apologized to me and asked if I was okay.
“I am fine. She missed me.”
I actually laughed at the thought of her outburst. Then, I saw that she had left both credit cards on top of my register. I glanced up to see her ample backside near the door. Without a word, or even trying to gain her attention, I let her go as I put her cards in a drawer. At the young age of sixteen, I had decided to let her rash actions bite her in the behind. She had used innocent toys as missiles in her outrage, so a little time spent in a panic searching for her credit cards wouldn’t hurt her any. Maybe she would think next time before letting her emotions totally take over. A heart attack over a doll in the parking lot was no way to spend Christmas.
Once the line died down, the elderly employee realized what I had done, and looked at me with wide eyes and then smiled.
“That is exactly what she needed,” she said. “Her actions were way out of line.”
“She probably won’t even remember leaving them here,” I said. I never knew of the outcome as my job thankfully ended.
I would venture to say that after thirty-one years since the incident she probably doesn’t even recall how badly she behaved over an elusive toy. Those particular dolls line the shelves today, and anyone can get their hands on one. Many of them sit untouched. As with all things, what was so important yesterday is almost forgotten about today. And, really, this should make us feel better. Because no matter what, all things come to an end. That tough situation you face right now will pass and someday you won’t give it another thought. I bet you have had this experience before. A problem that seemed so huge is now resolved and you don’t dwell on it.
This should give us hope. In the meantime, while you may be in a down time, make sure to pray and ask for strength. Heaven is the best at helping people who are going through a rough patch.