Across The Counter
Reprinted from May 1991
A while back, Pat made a speech at Paris Junior College concerning the things a watchmaker jeweler never learns in school. For the benefit of you who didn’t hear the speech, our friend Pat portrayed us jeweler-watchmakers as being sometimes not to tactful human beings.
Pat said he once took his mother’s antique Elgin watch in to be repaired. The watchmaker refused to repair it , but offered to trade it in on a new one. But he didn’t want a new watch; he wanted the old one repaired. So, not satisfied, he took it elsewhere where another watchmaker also refused to repair the “old relic.” Finally Pat found a “professional” watchmaker-jeweler who restored his mother’s watch to working condition and “mended his broken dreams.”
He climaxed the speech with still another story about a widowed mother who took her “Mother’s Ring” in for repair, only to be told it was junk jewelry. Then the mother (tears in her eyes) told the clerk her only son (who had given her the ring) had been killed in Vietnam. The ring had been a sentimental gift from him, making it invaluable to her. It was really a heart rendering speech, so I told RB right off we’d better start being nicer to our customers.
“RB”, I said, “I remember you turned down two old Elgin watches for repair last week.” (Secretly I wanted him to feel like a heartless slob.)
“They were junk,” he explained.
“But Pat says you should soften the blow and go ahead and fix them anyway.”
“That’s because Pat’s an agitator and not a watchmaker.”
“Now RB,” I said, “you know he’s right. At least you could be kindly about getting over on the truth. Pat says people are very emotional about their old watches.”
“I can tell the truth,” RB said, “any they say that honesty is the best policy. Besides, I can’t imagine anyone being so emotional about a watch.”
“But little white lies never hurt anyone,” I argued.
“Okay,” RB conceded. “We will be nice in the future. If you insist, we’ll give Pat’s way a try.”
“That very afternoon a sweet little old lady approached the counter with misty eyes. She clutched a little brown paper bag and was obviously nervous.
“Now RB, here’s your chance to give Pat’s way a try,” I cautioned him. “So be sweet now!”
RB took a deep breath. “May I help you with something?” he smiled. I sure was proud of him acting like that.
The little old lady clutched her brown paper bag, hesitated, then said: “I’m a widow, Mr. Williams. But I have here something which belonged to my dearly beloved, but departed husband; and to me, it’s a treasure.”
“I’m sure it is,” RB comforted her.
She hung her head and fought back the tears.
“Now don’t cry madam. I’m sure we can restore your pride in your husband’s cherished possession.” That sounded more like Pat than RB. But it proved he was trying.
“You don’t understand, Mr. Williams. My husband didn’t leave me very well fixed.”
“Well, I am sure we can work something out,” RB said. He was so kind and understanding. It was truly a heart rendering scene.
“Really?” she sighed. “The big store down the street just laughed at me.”
“Oh, how cruel,” said RB. “But we ‘independent’ jewelers are not so heartless.”
‘Well, I should hope not. Because I have purchased most of my jewelry from chain stores for years. Now they won’t do me this one courtesy, so I ‘m switching to ‘independent’ jewelers.”
RB looked pleased. “So what do you have there?” he asked softly, “your husband’s watch?”
“No, it isn’t his watch.”
“Oh, I’ll bet it’s a ring! How nice of you to come in, ma’am. Yes, we do expert jewelry repairs too.”
“No, it’s nothing like that,” she cooed, pleased at RB’s attention. “But it did cost a lot of money.”
RB was following Pat’s advice to the letter. “But I’m sure it’s of greater value to you now,” he said, “because it reminds you of him.”
“Yes, Mr. Williams, he wore it all the time.”
“A tie bar, perhaps?”
“No, but you’re getting warmer.” Cautiously she took the little brown bag and emptied its contents on the counter.
CLUNK! Out tumbled a gruesome looking dental bridge with three teeth still attached.
RB’s eye bulged. He paled, turned green and started to gag. And can you guess what he said? He yelled: “MARTHA! COME UP HERE AND HANDLE THIS!” Then covering his mouth with his hand he raced to the restroom.
So I took over trying to think of how Pat would handle this situation – faced with three used teeth and an attached dental bridge staring at him from the counter.
I guess I should have said, “I’m sure your husband enjoyed them for years, and your cooking must have been superb because obviously they are well worn.” But I didn’t say that. I faced the situation like a typical coward and said, “Madam, we don’t buy old gold. Perhaps you should try a pawn shop or a dentist.”
She thanked me and retrieved her prize from the counter. (I was thankful she did it herself), then departed.
RB was coming back from the restroom, blotting his face with a paper towel. “How are YOU going to handle the next little old lady that comes in?” he asked, derisively.
“Don’t worry, dear,” I replied. “We’ll simply have to cross that bridge when we come to it!”