Last week, after happily shopping in our local food market, my youngest son and I worked our way to the checkout lanes. Much as everyone does, we seek out the lane with the least people, so we pulled up to what seemed like just one customer ahead, and my son just got the words out of his mouth, “I hope it’s not someone with a sack full of pennies or …” and before he could complete his sentence, he paused for what I now know are two reasons.
Looking around my son, I saw a small woman with a froth of white hair bending over the conveyor belt. I also saw various denominations of paper money, coins, and coupons. She was deciding which items she could get and which would go back, and she was taking her own sweet time.
My son wanted to say something but felt caught between a rock and a hard place. To criticize this lady would almost seem as if he was criticizing all the seniors in the world, including his mother. He sighed, however, and said, “I spoke too soon.” I tried not to stare as she took things in and out of bags she had already packed with paid items. “Let’s see, she said slowly, maybe I can get this one and not the other.” She would examine the item as needed and either keep it or return it to the cashier.
My son was almost afraid to speak, believing that I would tell him to be more merciful because there was a time when I was younger. He was one of five children whose cereal, milk, bread, and even a few fun snacks were coming down the conveyor belt. There I stood, no math major in school, but I had learned to work the numbers in my head, and whatever I deemed for myself as a snack or maybe my usual magazine, snack, and cola would be held back with my hand, while I allowed all the things they liked or needed to go through.
I remember coupons, food stamps (which used to bring heavy sighs from anyone behind me in line, and even snarky looks from some of the cashiers who did not understand that I needed to work and receive the food stamps to feed my children. There is almost always a label, and now, many seniors are given a different label as nuisances and receiving social security, which some believe is just welfare for older people. Never mind that it was taken from every paycheck received for many years.
I took my attention, however, from the gray-haired senior woman to the cashier, a young Asian woman whose name tag announced her name as Koa. She was helping the woman count the coins, situate the paper money, and check the coupons to see if any had expired. She remained friendly and, most of all, patient. She was patient in a non-condescending way and ignored the line forming behind me.
I could hear the shuffling of feet behind me, the impatient long huffing of breath, the remarks about “old people” always dallying, and so on, but the cashier helped the lady and wished her a good day when the transaction was over.
Now, I have been a cashier, and as patient as I have been with customers, I was always aware of my lines forming, though our training taught us to cater only to the customer-facing us. I told my son we should call the store and speak to a manager about the excellent customer service we had witnessed. He gave me a look that said, “You’re right, Mom,” because he would want someone to treat me with the same courtesy and respect.
We called, and a manager answered, anticipating a complaint. The change in his voice when we complimented one of his cashiers was one of relief!
In this society, we quickly complain, sue others, grumble, and lose our tempers. Our young people are accustomed to our being disgruntled by their behavior, which in many cases can be pretty rude and uncaring, but let’s try to give credit where it is due and give the gift of encouragement when it’s called for.
I hope our call made the cashier’s day brighter, and I pray that the senior lady felt heard and relevant. A two-way street, ya’ll, a two-way street!