Tuesday, March 20, 2012


     "Am I going this direction?" The GPS couldn't seem to answer my question, so I took it back.
     "Can I help you?" The gray-haired man behind the Target customer service counter looked approachable but only in a Customer Service Counter sort of way. He wore a tight smile the same way he wore his name tag - like he'd picked it up off the kitchen counter on his way in to work.
     Glancing at his tag, I said, "Stan, I need to return this." I handed him the Tom Tom box and the receipt.
     "Oh no, what's wrong with it?" he asked. "We don't usually take these back."
     "He keeps bossing me around."
     Stan looked over his black-rimmed glasses as his smile started to twitch.
     "What do you mean?" he asked.
     "I don't like his tone."
     "I've given him two weeks, and I don't think it's going to work out."
     "Ma'am, you can change the voice on a GPS."
     "I realize that!"
     (Do I look blonde to you?)
     "Stan, I couldn't find the 'change attitude" section on the main menu."
     (It's what my dad, the Marine, used to call an "attitude adjustment.")
     "What exactly would you change about uh ... his attitude?"
     (Stan clearly had no idea what he was stepping into here, but there was no one in line behind me, so what the heck?)
     "There's this anger issue. When I miss a turn, he yells at me."
     "What does he say?"
     " 'Make a U-turn as soon as possible!' And he says it about 50 times. He never says 'please'."
     Stan looked confused but seemed determined to plod along.
     (Or, perhaps he considered this fodder for his blog.)
     "Do you make U-turns?" he asked, cautiously.
     "No, of course not. I never look back, and I never turn around."
     "I suppose you ..."
     "Stan, sometimes I know a shorter path to one of My Favorites. Sometimes I like to take the long way home. Sometimes I drive slower or miss exits, because I'm in the middle of a conversation. Sometimes I don't end up at my original destination. And I'm nearly always happier off the selected route, if you know what I mean."
     "Yes ... I can imagine. Ma'am, is this the first GPS you have owned?"
     "Of course not."
     "Did that one have an attitude issue?"
     "No, SHE had manners. She would say 'PLEASE make a U-turn whenever possible.' And she accepted the fact that I often ignored or disagreed with her instructions and would simply drive to the nearest coffee shop. He's too busy recalculating my route to enjoy a few detours!"
     "What happened to her?"
     "Dusty? I gave her to my son." ;)
     Stan looked down at the receipt.
     "Do you want another GPS?" he asked.
     "I'm not opposed to the idea. But here's the deal; he doesn't have to agree with me all the time, but he does need to 'get me.' Do you have something like that here?"
     Stan sighed as he completed the transaction. "Sign here; the refund will go back on your check card."
     (Maybe I'll find a GPS that answers my question with, "I believe you are." Or, better yet, "As you wish." If he fetches coffee, I'll consider that a bonus.)



Friday, March 9, 2012

Life in the Garden

She kept Farmers’ Almanacs the way some people used to save TV Guide or Reader’s Digest. Worn, but orderly stacked by year, the almanacs marked the highs and lows of a life spent in a garden. The current copy, with the rainfall totals and droughts recorded in her precise print, stayed on a table in the hallway between the kitchen and the outside door.
She had no attachment to things, trends or technology but understood well that there is a season for everything.
Every morning possible, she would pull on her work clothes – bonnet included – and walk out that back door. First stop was the strawberry patch, just to the right. She talked to those berries like friends; they were the front line and critical to her reputation.
The small, warm, wooden henhouse was behind the strawberry patch, on the other side of a metal fence. She would call to her hens by name. Like little girls, the hens clucked happily when she praised their eggs.
Then, she would walk to the other side of the house where the massive garden was so perfectly aligned that drivers on the nearby road would slow down and stare out their windows. Corn, potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, onions, okra.
Her relationship with her garden was so well known that the Master Gardeners at the local Agricultural Extension office would call her – when they couldn’t answer someone’s question about what happens to tomatoes when there’s too much rain or when to plant green beans.
She knew where to find God and would talk to Him among the cornstalks, by the creek, alongside the chicken houses, near the hay field.
And somehow, even when the spring was too wet or the summer too hot, she could coax vegetables and fruit out of the Arkansas dirt.
No matter the size of the bounty, she would share with everyone – family, friends, neighbors, farm workers, church members, salespeople. Her polite, specific instructions on how to maintain and prepare the food somehow made you feel more confident. (Did you know that leaving the shucks on the corn in your fridge will keep the corn fresher? Now, you do.)
In gardening, she would say, there are no failures – only lessons learned.  A weed or two offers an excuse to put your hands in the rich dirt. Heavy rain means time to sit on the back porch with a cat on your lap – and watch everything turn green. A failed crop? An opportunity to start over.
She taught me about the seasons and demonstrated how even the Farmers’ Almanac could be wrong. Spending summer days or Saturdays with her, I thought I was just learning how to till, pull, dig, shuck, pluck and gather. But recently – just when I needed them – the life lessons of a gardener returned to me.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


            Almost 17 years ago, my son came into this world like a lamb – not like the gentle ones described in the Bible – he was angry, wriggly, noisy. He greeted us with loud, unrelenting bleating as if he’d been waiting for nine months to express an opinion. Four years later, my daughter, full of quiet assurance, greeted us with a couple of squeaks and blinks before being swaddled in warm blankets and sleeping contentedly under the bright lights.  
            Greetings matter.
A few days ago, on another reluctant trip into Wal-Mart, I was NOT welcomed to Wal-Mart by a Greeter who was about three shades past resentful. I smiled at her, waiting for the opening line. Nothing. I slowly shuffled past her, still waiting for that semi-friendly Greeter voice. Nothing.  I looked back over my shoulder and said, “Good morning!” Oops, make that four shades.
I decided right then to begin practicing for my future career transition – from, uh, Coffee Drinker (?) to Professional Wal-Mart Greeter. This should happen quite naturally. After all, I: 1. look good in a blue vest 2. love to greet and 3. like to smile at anyone who looks particularly cranky or is wearing tight, black crop pants and a 1980s rock band tank top.
I read in the newspaper (the printed copy of your app that shows up on some people’s driveways) that Wal-Mart was eliminating greeters from the over-night shifts and moving the day greeters away from the doors. Sam Walton started the Greeter system in 1980 as a way of making shoppers feel more comfortable and to improve customer service. Sam understood human nature.  
Recently, my daughter and I were in a KFC. Except for taking our order for extra crispy (of course!) in a disinterested way, the employees ignored us and spent 15 minutes loudly discussing last night’s party, somebody’s broken-down truck and one of the girl’s newest tattoos. Contrast that with Chick-fil-A drive-through employees – where DO they find these people? (You can see the exclamation marks when they talk.) “How can I serve you today?! “It’s been MY pleasure to serve you! I hope you have a wonderful day!”
It was SUCH a pleasure for me that I inhaled those addictive, overpriced chicken nuggets (my daughter calls them “manna”) before I pulled out of the parking lot. I considered turning back into the drive-through line.
My mother and I are on a “hug basis” with most of the employees at an undisclosed location where we regularly eat dinner. At least two – OK, make that fourish – coffee shops in town know my usual order. The employees at one place seem to be gauging my mood before placing my order – Tuxedo? Triple Mocha? Love Berry?
As it turns out, incorporating my newfound Greeter skills into my current day job will not be difficult.
“Welcome to your final exam! You’ll need two pencils and your brain! It’s been my pleasure to serve you!”
Or, I could tell my students the same thing I will soon be telling my son.
“Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” (Luke 10:3)