Listen to Jim’s podcast:
or read his story below:
THE SEARS ROEBUCK DOUBLE DIPPED
CHOCOLATE COVERED PEANUT CLUSTER RUSH
Very busy day at the bookstore. Arrive home afterward. Grab snack and peruse newspapers. Avoid any article or media blast about disturbing news of the day, which pretty well encompasses any and all news. Succeed at this. Liz arrives home and we discuss her just-completed enjoyable presentation at the Alabama Writers’ Conclave. We decide to skip the Conclave dinner because she is tired and I am agoraphobic. A great match.
After dining and cleaning up, she slips off to her social media and I slip upstairs to don jammies and discard shoes. After staring glumly at part of a streamed melodrama I sneak downstairs to see what’s what in the refrigerator. What’s this? Half of a six-ounce bag of chocolate covered peanuts! I ascend the stairs and begin munching on this delicacy, a pale representation of what chocolate covered peanuts once were.
I’m teleported back to early-teenage time in Tuscaloosa, riding my second-hand thin-tired bicycle over curbs and along railroad tracks on the way home from the old Victorian home housing the public library. I head for Sears, Roebuck and Company down on 15th Street, park the unchained bike (who’s going to bother stealing it?) and head indoors for the Sears candy counter.
You don’t remember how the Sears candy counter is structured because you aren’t around when I am a teen. It is a free-standing island in the middle of the store, a blocked-off area surrounded on four sides by glass display cases filled with every dentist’s dream–tons of sweet confections. The ritual is simple. I slowly encircle the rows of candy displays, gazing carefully at each and every item, imagining the taste and texture and heft of all these wonders, until I return to the spot where I began. Then, invariably, I do the exact thing I’ve done a hundred times before. I approach the counter wherein the double-dipped chocolate covered peanut clusters beckon.
I wait patiently for the candy counter clerk to notice me, never once removing my eyes from the peanuts, afraid someone will buy them up before I get my shot. The clerk comes over, stares down at me over the scales, and asks, “May I help you?” I try to contain my excitement and say in a steady if sometimes cracking voice, “Yes, I’d like some double dipped chocolate covered peanut clusters, please.” “How much do you want?” she asks. I look at the per-ounce price and quickly count the change in my pockets. “Uh, two dollars’ worth, please.” The clerk opens her side of the case to access the candy, fills an aluminum scoop with just under the correct amount ordered, and places the peanuts in a white paper bag. Then, she does a most remarkable thing, a thing few clerks know how to do these days. She weighs the bag, notes that it needs just a few more peanuts to rise to the two-dollar mark, scoops those up and bags them, folds the top of the sack, collects my money and hands over the goods.
The other clerk, who is absent today, is the one no-one wants to deal with. She is the clerk who scoops up too many peanuts at once, bags them, then tilts the bag to empty the correct number down to the two-dollar mark. The first clerk makes me feel I’m getting something extra, the second clerk appears to be taking something back from me.
A life’s lesson I carry with me to this day.
I love going to Fife’s Cafeteria these day in downtown Birmingham for precisely the same reason I used to go to Sears. The servers in the line always add a little something to each serving, as if they’re slipping me an extra treat.
Back in the shop this week, I attempt to treat each customer as if there’s something extra in the book bag. I throw in a bookmark, give a modest discount, add a smile and a “hope you have a great day,” hoping that here and there, a customer will “get it” and appreciate the small attentions I try to pay.
Even if the customer doesn’t notice, I do…and I go home feeling just a wee bit better about the world.
And, now and then, I search in vain for some great double dipped chocolate covered peanut clusters served in a sparkling white paper bag