Going Through a Rough Patch

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.



Loved From Head to Tail

I flopped into my bed at sunrise after a night of Black Friday shopping. I shivered under the covers as a slight hypothermia had started to set in. In a drowsy state waiting for sleep to fully descend, a picture began to form in my thoughts of my youngest daughter carrying a puppy in her arms. In my mind, I saw her go into her bedroom and shut the door. Then, another scene took its place of my other daughter carrying a puppy into her room and closing a door.

I opened my eyes. Had I been dreaming? I glanced at the clock. Not even a minute had gone by. I was pretty sure I had been awake with my eyes shut. A strange longing to give each girl a dog for Christmas began to grow as I stared up at the ceiling. Like a little nudge by someone saying,

“You want this. You know you do.”

After a few moments of consideration, I began to come up with every reason why I would NOT want this at all!

I just had gone through a horrible divorce.
I just had given away our black lab less than a year prior to a family who loved her. (A fallout from the divorce and lack of being able to take the time to keep her.)
I had never raised two dogs at one time.
Neither girl was asking for a dog for Christmas.

And, then I added this out loud:

“I need them to be free.  I cannot afford to buy dogs right now.”   I knew if I threw that on it, it would not come about.

I turned over satisfied that I had dismissed the entire emotional episode and fell into the most peaceful sleep during the daytime with the sun fully shining.

A week later, I received a phone call.

“I am at an appointment, and there is this lady who has puppies she wants to find good homes for before Christmas.  I was thinking you could take two. One for each of your girls.”

I had not spoken of my experience, and I had forgotten about it.

“How much does she want for them?” I asked.

“She is giving them away for free.”

“How much?”

My ability to hear correctly shut down because the event from the week before was hitting me full on.

“They are free.”

“How much?”

“Chris, they are free! She wants them to go to good homes.”

“Well, maybe I can take one.”

After I made that statement, I felt a heaviness and slight sadness in my heart. So much so that I had to blurt out the whole story about each girl getting a puppy for Christmas.

Once the entire encounter was out in the open, he said,

“You need to take two.  One for each girl.”

“I guess I will,” I said.

I told him to give my phone number to the puppy owner so she could call me later in the day.  She did so, and I made the mistake of putting the call on speaker phone.  I had each girl hanging on my every word as we spoke.  My oldest daughter wanted a boy, and the other wanted a female.  Taking only one was no longer an option.  I made arrangements to go see the entire litter later that day.

While driving over for our visit, I began to feel myself panic.  I silently went over all my reasons why I should not have been engaging in this.  Once I saw the puppies, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to say no.  As I fretted along, I felt a strong peace settle in my chest.  It was like my mind was whirling a hundred miles an hour, but I had a calm that kept my foot on the gas and the car moving toward the destination.

When we arrived and I knocked on the door, I heard a chorus of barking.  The three of us were greeted by puppies running around us in circles.  We decided to sit down in the middle of it all to see what would happen.  A small little male came and settled in quite nicely on my oldest daughter’s lap.  A smaller female came to occupy the other daughter’s lap.

“Ever since we got off the phone, these two have been sitting by the door like they were waiting for you to come,” Ellie, the owner, said.

The decision had made itself.  Lily and Stinky were now ours to keep.

We left them in her care for another week and on December 12 they came to take up permanent residence in my home.  Both girls had been given free dogs for Christmas.

I still don’t fully understand how they came to be mine because having two dogs was the farthest thing from any of my wishes.  However, they completely changed the entire atmosphere of my home.  We all laughed more often, and I worried less.  Many times, we would entertain ourselves watching the two of them tussle over toys.  I can still see Lily, all of two pounds at the time, dragging her brother Stinky across the living room floor by the toy in his mouth. He had clamped onto her favorite stuffed animal and wouldn’t let it go.  They became a good distraction from all that had gone wrong.

Oddly, after we had gotten them, my youngest daughter told me something even more strange.  After our black lab was adopted, she created a virtual dog on one of her gaming systems. It helped her to get over the fact that our real dog was no longer with us.  She named her virtual pet ‘Lily’ and gave her a black coat just exactly like the real Lily.  The dogs were already named when we went to go visit them, and we kept their names once we got them home. All of it seemed to be so arranged.  In a very good way.

The following year, as Christmas was approaching, I made up cookie trays and wondered if Ellie would like one.  On the night before Christmas Eve, I had a strong inclination to put together a tray and get it to her house.  Snow was falling hard that night, but I knew I was to deliver this to her.  When I knocked on the door, I heard the familiar sound of barks.

“Merry Christmas,” I said when she opened the door.  “I brought you a cookie tray that I made.”

I saw the tears come into her eyes, and then she hugged me while I tried not to drop the entire tray.

“I just got back from the store.  My oven broke so I can’t bake anything, and I was trying to find packages of cookies or something.  This comes at just the right time.”

That is how I felt about her gift of the dogs to me.  They came at just the right moment in my life, and I didn’t even realize then how much I needed them.  Someone who loves me deeply knew and sent them my way.  Just more proof that we are loved completely from head to tail.


Stinky and Lily