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I Like Barbara.

Submitted by Bill Oechsler (1032 Floral SE Grand Rapids, Mi 49506)

One customer who becomes a regular and then a friend, remains part of the family.

My time in retail was the best on-the-job customer service training I could have ever received. And the work itself proved to be a great fit for me. Being in my twenties, I found retail offered a flexible schedule with steady income that could be supersized by working above and beyond i.e., time-and-a-half and double-time. All told I worked for three different retailers, at nine different stores, across four different states, over a ten-year period. A person can grow to really love this kind of work. You can even grow to love the people you meet. I found that “regular” customers can become more than that, much more.

While working in Southern California, I became acquainted with a woman in her late-seventies named Barbara who would stop in several times a week. Sometimes I’d take a break and we would grab a cup of coffee just to chat. Barbara liked to share stories about growing up in Orange County “back in the day” and how she had worked at Knott’s Berry Farm for many years. She stilled lived within walking distance of the park. She didn’t talk much about her deceased husband nor children who had grown up and moved away.

One spring my wife and I asked Barbara out for Mother’s Day dinner. We drove into her tidy mobile home park and navigated through narrow, palm tree lined streets until pulling into her carport. Stacy had brought a simple bouquet of flowers. Barbara had dressed up. At a nearby restaurant, we shared a nice meal and uncomplicated conversation. Dropping her off back at home, Barbara insisted we come in for coffee. And before we left, she insisted we take with us a huge brick of government-issued cheese.

Not all that long after that Mother’s Day dinner, Stacy and I left Southern California to return to Texas. To help remember her, Barbara gave us about a dozen pieces of pale green and light pink Depression Glass. These delicate plates and cups (Barbara’s heirlooms) have been a part of our home for more than a quarter century. They grace a full shelf of a corner hutch in our dining room.

If it were within my power, I would create a special form of Selective Service with an emphasis on “service” to others. Such a program would call up young men and women into a season of working in a store, hotel, restaurant, or the like. I believe that it would impact them not just professionally but personally and relationally.

Maybe along the way they will meet Barbara—one customer who becomes a regular, then a friend, then a remains part of the family.