It was 1955. Having just turned 10, I’d earned a very special right – my dad said I could help in the store by serving customers.
Oh, I’d helped out before, but not actually serving anyone. Just, you know, straightening the skeins of wool or boxes of hankies. But serving a customer? Never, not until this day.
How proud I was, that my dad felt I was ready to do this! First things first – he said he had to show me how the cash register worked. I guess he didn’t realize it, but since I’d been watching him and my mom in the store for years, I pretty much already knew. But I let him think I didn’t… so I’d have that much more training, just in case I didn’t know everything.
And then, customers began drifting in. Our store was never truly what you’d call “busy” – if more than, say, three people came in, and were browsing at the same time – but they weren’t together – that was busy.
My dad was serving someone but noticed me, hanging back. He nodded at me, gesturing to a kind-looking little old lady perusing the boxes of nylons, and smiled encouragingly at me. Shyly, I approached her. Mimicking my mom and dad, I asked, in the most adult-sounding voice I could muster, “Can I help you?”
She looked down at me (I was, to my everlasting sorrow, rather short!), smiled sweetly but said, “No dear, I’m just looking.” But then not two minutes later, she went over to my mom on the other side of the store and asked for her help. I was crestfallen to say the least.
What had I done wrong? Of course it didn’t occur to me to see me from the lady’s point of view – I was the size of an eight-year-old – and looked nervous, in spite of my efforts at bravado.
The next couple of times went the same way. Good grief, was there no one who would let me help them?! What’s wrong with me, I thought, totally chagrined. I went over to my mom, then my dad, almost tearful, looking for sympathy and advice.
“That’s okay,” they said. “The customers just aren’t used to us having such a wonderful new helper. Don’t worry. Keep trying!”
So I did. Finally, in walked a smiling woman who didn’t brush me off when I offered my assistance. “Oh yes,” she said. “You certainly can help me. I’m looking for some thread.”
I was aware of my heart, beating like a drum, as I led her over to the rows of gaily coloured spools of thread in their special showcase.
“Oh just look at them all,” she said. “How will I ever choose! What colour do you think would go best with these?” And she drew out a pair of pink wool booties from her purse. “I’m going to sew some pink ribbons on them,” she said, with a conspiratorial wink.
I grinned with new confidence as I picked up a spool of thread, of a soft-pink hue. “Why, that’s just perfect,” she said. “How did you pick that out so fast!” I blushed, heading for the cash register with the lady in tow. “How much is it, dear?” she asked.
It was nine cents. No tax under ten. I rang it up. I handed the lady her purchase with the bill in a little paper bag. And I almost fainted with pleasure and relief. Nine cents… which today – it was sixty years ago today – I still remember.