Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Be like Abe

Ever have one of those days when you have to leave the house, but you hope beyond all hope that no one, not anybody, no where, no how, sees you?

Happened to me once – sort of.

I knew when I left home that I’d see a couple people, and I was okay with that. But, running into someone on whom my livelihood depended and on whom I’d like to make a good impression? Not so okay with that.

Just so you understand where I’m coming from here, I’m no prima donna, no prissy pris, no girly girl. I know people who won’t leave the house without lipstick, no less.

I’m not one of them.

In fact, I’ve gone months without a stitch of makeup, years without wearing a skirt or a dress. I’m just a jeans and t-shirt kind of gal. But I take a bath every day, and I wash my hair, brush my teeth and wear clean clothes.

Sometimes, though, even clean clothes don’t look clean, and in the course of a day of hard work, the most well-scrubbed bod can appear otherwise. This was one of those days.

For more years than I care to remember, we owned some apartment houses – not big complexes, not slums, just a handful of nice older two-family homes that we rented out to mostly nice people (though some fooled us a bit).

One summer, we’d decided we’d save money heating the homes come winter if we’d add insulation, so we called the local installation guy and had him do the job. He had some sort of high-powered blower that would fill the attics and side walls with the stuff once he drilled holes in the siding.

A few days after his visit to one home, I got a call from a tenant.

“Hi, it’s me, [name omitted to protect the innocent]. I went down to the basement to do laundry.

“You know that room next to the washer? It’s full of insulation.”

It sure was – pretty nearly, anyway.

When I went over to check it out on my lunch hour, I found that the area, originally the home’s coal room, a long narrow space about four feet wide and ten feet long, was almost half full of gray blown-in cellulose insulation.

Back then, I had Wednesdays off. So, the next Wednesday, I pulled on my work clothes – an old comfy t-shirt and a pair of faded, paint-splattered bib overalls. I took some garbage bags, a snow shovel, a broom and a dust pan with me and set off to un-insulate (Is that a word?) the overstuffed room. If I remember correctly, someone was helping me – another renter or a high school boy who worked with me. Thank goodness.

Within an hour or so, we’d made a lot of progress on the drift of gray snow. It wasn’t heavy, but it was messy, and I was looking the worse for wear. The insulation stuck to my clothes, my shoes, my face, my arms, and burrowed its way into my hair.

I needed a break, and if memory serves me correctly, I also needed more trash bags or boxes or something.

I headed to the grocery store where I worked, just a couple blocks from the house.

An “Oh no!” moment

Did you ever have one of those times when you wished you could just turn invisible, say “Beam me up, Scotty, NOW!” and be outta there? It was one of them.

I wasn’t worried about my coworkers or customers seeing me in my “work clothes.” We’d grown up together and they were used to seeing me all scruffy on my quick trips to the store in the midst of cleaning or painting projects.

What I didn’t count on was walking down the produce aisle toward the double doors to the back room and running right smack dab into one of the store’s owners, an “older” gentleman in neatly pressed suit, starched shirt, shiny shoes and tie. He and his brother had come for a visit.

What I hoped, as I spotted him at the end of the aisle, was that I could just pretend I didn’t see him, and that he wouldn’t see me either. It was too late to take a detour down another aisle.

I’d seen him in the store before, but never met him formally, so I was hoping he’d pay me no mind.

No such chance. In his friendliest voice, the owner, a man named Abe, smiled, and said, “Hello, how are you?” with a warmth not often seen or felt -- as if he really cared.

“Fine, thanks. And you?” was my answer – or something of the sort, smiling back, but thinking “Oh, $@&#!”

Then, I went ahead, pushed through the doors and did what I’d come to do.

To this day, I don’t know if Abe knew I worked for his company, or if he was just being as friendly to me as he was to anyone he met. I like to think it was the latter.

Even before that encounter, I had always tried to be friendly to every customer, no matter how dirty, unfriendly or stand-offish they seemed. I always just felt it was the right thing to do.

But after the morning that Abe treated me as if I were wearing party finery and I was the most important person he’d ever met, I always tried to treat his customers – ours – the same.

I wanted to be like Abe.

I think he would have liked that.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012

(Image via)


  1. Ann I think you were like Abe. You treated all your customers the same. Nice blog. Thanks for sharing.

  2. My Aunt Ann... I couldn't be more proud of you... This is a hoot, and many lessons learned... Love and Hugs, Angie :)

  3. Beautiful story, Ann! What a great message. - Nina Litvak

  4. Thanks, "Anonymous," Angie and Nina. Your kind words mean so much.