I processed through the opening words of this post and my heart lurched around like a drunken soldier when I realized that I was about to type “30 years ago.” Whoa. Anyway …
Thirty years ago, Mom asked if I would open a business with her. I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life and this was to be a short term venture. Dad would then retire early, come into the established business and Carol and I would take off and do our thing. That wasn’t quite what I’d planned for my life, but okay. I put my plans on hold and we opened a quick printing business in Omaha.
There are a million stories from that experience, but this morning I was thinking about the early days of actually owning a shop with a front door and counters and … oh my gosh, customers! They just walked in off the street!
One thing we caught ourselves doing was greeting every person who walked in the door as a guest. I’m surprised we didn’t move comfortable chairs in, put a coffee pot on and bake cookies. Not for lack of desire, though.
I laughed one day as Mom and I both turned away from the front door after walking a customer out, then waiting while they got into their car and drove away. Especially when I recognized that wasn’t the first time it had happened. We held the door for everyone and said good-bye to them from the doorway, not from behind the counter.
Over the next twenty+ years, our regular customers became more than just that, they were friends. There was a pharmacy in our plaza that catered to the elderly in the neighborhood. These older men and women discovered they were safe in our shop and could get immediate assistance, a chair and a smile from us. When one man came in one day, completely confused and lost, we called his wife. He had the car so she couldn’t come get him. Carol took the poor, frightened man home to the safety of his own house. We cried when one of our favorite old men died. He only spent thirty-five cents every few days making copies here and there, but he’d make a copy of his favorite things and hand them across the counter to us. They were treasured gifts, the words on those pages meant the world to him. When he couldn’t stand, we brought a chair out so he could sit and work.
We soon discovered that we’d made friends in several non-English speaking communities. Neither Carol nor I spoke any other language, yet they came in regularly. Because even though we couldn’t understand everything they said, it was important for us to be able to communicate and they knew we tried. They helped us and beamed when we figured out what they needed.
Our UPS delivery driver, our salespeople, our mailman, our neighbors … they were part of our community, not just part of our business. Because that’s how we grew up.
None of the houses we lived in were ever extravagant. Most of the time they weren’t terribly clean, but if there was a knock at the door (either the front or the back), we quickly grabbed up stray litter and shoved it into drawers and closets while Mom pushed the dogs out of the way and greeted whomever was there with a smile and welcome. Dad often brought people home for meals. Our dinner table welcomed everyone from the Bishop of the Methodist Conference to homeless transients and it was expected that each person receive the same welcome and respect.
A few months ago, I reached out to an author whose books had inspired me to move forward with writing and publishing. I wanted to express to her that not only did I enjoy reading her stories, but she had given me courage to do this for myself. By that point I had published the first three books and felt confident that I would continue.
The response I received was disappointing. An assistant returned my email, telling me that the author was too busy and couldn’t respond, but that she certainly appreciated my taking time to write. I was pretty disgusted.
But that’s not who I am or who I will ever be. I’d love to think I would be so busy someday that I’ll need an assistant (or 500), but my life revolves around the people I encounter in person and online. That’s where I discover new friendships and relationships. No matter how you enter my life, when it’s time for you to leave, I will walk you to the front door and wave until you’ve turned the corner and can no longer see me.
My stories aren’t just about characters or mysteries. They’re about relationships and how we live together to make this short period of time we share on earth the best we can for everyone. If you’re reading this – you are part of my story and I’m so glad you’re here. We have a lot more to tell before we’re finished. I’d probably better get busy on that.