Across The Counter
By Martha Williams, El Paso, Texas
Reprinted from November 1989
It was 9:20pm, and I was just finishing up the supper dishes, and wondering if I’d get to watch the late news and thinking about having to be at the dentist at 7am so I could be at the store by 8:30am, so I could mark some items and rearrange the storage closet before opening. Something fluttered through my mind about something a fellow at the beauty shop said last time I was getting my hair done. He was in the next chair getting a perm and when he found out what kind of business I was in he said I really had a soft job with good hours. Off hand I can’t remember why I didn’t get up and belt him one, but perhaps it was because I was afraid the curling iron might burn my neck.
I’ve had other people tell me we have a soft job. I look at RG sitting there repairing watches after 42 years in the identical position and think that someday maybe I’ll bury him in sitting position, rigid, head down, and hands under his chin. I have even kidded him that he moves so little that I could have him freeze dried and no one would know the difference. How can anyone think working a jewelry store or watch or jewelry repair shop is a soft job?
A while back a lovely young lady swooped through the door and smiling broadly as only someone will do if they intend to sell you something, she said “Hi, I’m from Sam’s Club, and I’d like to talk to you about a membership.”
Having had all the bad news I could conjure up for one day, I just waved her off. Being young and enthusiastic, she seemed perplexed. “Did you have some sort of misunderstanding with Sam’s Club?” She pushed undoubtedly because someone who had trained her told her to do this. “No,” I said, “I simply have no use for Sam Walton or any of his ventures.” She looked puzzled. “Why?” I wasn’t in any mood for educational ventures so I asked her how she came to be working at an obviously minimum wage job when she seemed so very well educated and was young and pretty.
She related to me that she and her husband had suffered from yuppie burn out and while he had a good job making plenty of money and she had had a good job making slightly less money, they felt unfulfilled in life and decided to quit and move to Texas. Once here she explained that she had been unable to find work of any great rewards and her husband had had nibbles but no steady work. I think when she got to the part about burn out, I must have made a scoffing gesture, because she went back over how much they didn’t like their jobs, etc.
She then asked me how I’d felt about the jobs my husband and I had when we were young. I explained that we didn’t worry about burn out because we worried about practical things like eating.
RB, I said, had been in the Navy and while being shot at for the better part of the war and not liking it, had a tremendous desire to survive, which may have kept the burn out from occurring.
This sweet young girl went on to tell me how bored she’d be doing the same old thing and I told her that RB had once been at sea one whole year without seeing land and as far as I knew he was not bored – scared to death maybe, hopeful he’d see home again, but likely not bored.
I had jobs too dreary to discuss, one which involved being at a bank by 7am to balance the previous day’s cash sheet and do up the balance sheet. I can’t remember the term minimum wage, but I’m pretty sure that’s what I was paid and I worked six days a week without any day off except Sunday and one week’s paid vacation… after having been there one year. We stayed all day or until all the books were done or until we balanced which sometimes ran into the evening of the next day. I can’t remember burn out, but I can remember how thrilled I was to be able to pay my bills and have a job.
In the end, this girl did not sell me a membership to Sam’s Club, but she did leave me with a bit of youthful wisdom. Drawing herself up to full height, she proudly said in a most refined manner, “Maybe your generation raised a group of burn outs.”
I had to admit she was right. I think one of my own kids burned out early too. As I live each day, I have to notice the attitude people have towards jobs and other ventures in life which do not please them. While we have dealt with a great many young people over the years who have been lovely to do business with, I now note every once in awhile we get one of the young moderns who purchase a wedding ring or bride’s maid gifts and when something goes amiss they do not fling their hands in dismay, they literally come unglued over the slightest thing not to their taste, liking or instructions. Someday, if fate ever deals them a cruel blow in life, I’ll wonder what they’ll do for an encore.
Years ago, I remember we sold a prospective bride, 22 engraved items for her bride’s maids and flower children. They all went into identical boxes to be wrapped and ready. I turned this job over to a fledging employee who beautifully wrapped all gifts without putting anything on the outside indicating the initials or which gift went to whom. The bride came in and was obviously miffed. I apologized and we undid and rewrapped all in haste. She was not pleased, but managed a half smile on her way out.
Another time I remember we were to make a ring in a size 9 for a bride. Somehow the jeweler read it 6. The wedding was in an hour or so and believe it or not the jeweler delivered it to the church after he sized it within minutes of the ceremony and the bride was very gracious about it.
By contrast, we recently made up a wedding set that was to have a curly Q here and the jeweler put it there. The prospective bride came in and went into passionate tears and vicious accusations saying we’d ruined her wedding.
All the time she was wailing, I was wondering how she’d react the first time her husband came home drunk or forgot where he parked the car. For it all, the episode with the Sam’s Club girl taught me a lesson. I learned a new term. Tonight when RB drags in after having gone to the post office and bank and supper isn’t ready I am going to say, “Sorry dear, I am suffering from house wife burn out.” I just know he’ll be very understanding.