What? You want to pay for that???

A number of years ago, my nephew was getting married, and he and his fiancé had registered at a number of stores for their wedding gifts. As this was a second marriage for both, they did not need “newlywed” items, and were very “specific” as to what they wanted. One of the items they wanted was a microwave. I thought this would be a perfect gift from Aunt Cat…

I made the trip to the local Walmart and found the perfect microwave. Of course, as anyone knows, you cannot go into Walmart and purchase just one item, so I ended up with a buggy full of merchandise. As is my usual habit, when it came to check out, I chose a cashier that “liked to visit” as she rang the items up for sale. (I, myself, like to chat a little as I am spending money…) So, she and I were running our mouths, a mile a minute, as she scanned each item of merchandise. I paid the amount indicated, and then made my way to the exit. Before I could get out the door, my items and receipt were checked by the “greeter” as I left the store. Of course, I was busy talking with her also….

As I was walking to my car, I had a nagging thought that the amount that I had paid just did not seem “right.” It bothered me to the point, that I stopped right in the middle of the parking lot, and pulled out my receipt to “double-check” the total. As I was reviewing the charges, I determined that although the cashier had scanned the microwave, it did not register on the receipt. To my alarm and dismay, I realized that I had unknowingly walked out of Walmart without paying for that microwave. I was beside myself!! Now, there a number of people who would have said, “Wow, their mistake…I just got a free microwave!” However, I could not do that! 

I turned around to go back into the store. I ran into problems with the official Walmart greeter. The conversation went something like this…Greeter: “Honey, did you forget something?” Me: “No, I just need to go back in to pay for this microwave.” Greeter: “What??” Me: “I checked out, but the scanner did not pick up the microwave. I did not discover this till I got outside and I need to go back and pay for it.” Greeter: “You left the store without paying for a microwave??” Me: “Yes, Ma’am. The cashier scanned it, but apparently the scanner did not pick it up. I thought I had paid for it. I just need to go back in to pay for it.” Greeter: “You got to the parking lot without paying for a microwave?” Me: “That’s right! Can I just go back in now?” Greeter, hugging me: “You sure can, honey, and bless your heart!”

The next hurdle was the customer service rep. The conversation went like this…Rep: “Can I help you?” Me: “Yes, Ma’am. I need to pay for this microwave.” Rep: “You want to return the microwave?” Me: “No, Ma’am. I need to pay for it.” Rep: “What do you mean you want to pay for it? Let me see your receipt.” Me: “The receipt will show that the microwave was not paid for.” Rep: “I don’t understand.” Me: “I purchased the microwave, or thought I did, but the scanner obviously did not pick it up. I got out of the store thinking that I had paid for it, but realized that the total amount was wrong once I reached the parking lot. I came back in immediately to pay the correct amount.” Rep: “You got out of the store without paying for the microwave?” Me: “That’s right! I’m not sure how it happened, but there it is!” She looked back and forth from me to the microwave to the receipt, and finally said, “Just go over to the cashier that checked you out, and she will take care of you…and bless your heart!”

I finally arrived at the cashier who had checked me out. She recognized me and our conversation went like this…Cashier: “Is something wrong?” Me: “When you checked me out, the scanner did not pick up the microwave. I did not realize this until I got outside.” Cashier: “What??” Me: “I got out of the store without paying for this microwave. I just need to pay for it.” Cashier: “The door checker did not catch it?” Me: “No, Ma’am. I did not discover it until I got to the parking lot.” Cashier: “And you came back inside to pay for it?” Me: “Yes, Ma’am! Can we please do this now?” Cashier: “We sure can! Thank you so much for coming back in! Not everyone would do that.” Me: “I could do it no other way!” Cashier, shaking her head, with a smile and a hug, “BLESS YOUR HEART!!”

I found the entire incident hilarious, but also sobering. Is honesty so hard to be found nowadays? Is it so hard to believe that someone would “do the right thing?” The staff could not get over the fact that I actually had “gotten away” with unpaid merchandise, and came back into the store to pay for it. I was taught that you pay for what you take…no ifs, ands or buts. I would not have been able to lay down and sleep that night, or look myself in the mirror had I done anything differently. I am far from perfect, but I DO know right from wrong. People think that dishonesty only applies to large items or events…that the “little things” just don’t matter that  much. My Mama used to say “in for a penny, in for a pound.” I got that message and lesson…I won’t be “in for a penny…” Won’t you join me? Just for this week….

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Please, don’t let me die alone…

When I first started working in nursing homes, my background and education was in social work. Oh, the plans I had in my head regarding this profession and career. I was going to blaze new paths for the field of social work…I was going to “save the world”…I was going to solve people’s problems and make all of their lives so much better. Initially, I found this “mission” to be a little harder than I had anticipated. Each day I learned that there was quite a bit of knowledge that I needed, that could not be found in any textbook. Much of what I did in the beginning was “trial by fire.”

Just as an aside, you need to know…People who work with elders, especially those precious ones who live in nursing homes, find that it is possible to have a few “favorite” people who are in their care…those individuals who you automatically “connect” with…they need and give just a little extra loving and affection. They may have no family at all. They may have been abused. They may simply be wanting to be loved. For whatever reason, you find that you form a strong bond with these wonderful, old people. The professionalism comes into play in that the “favoritism” is never shown, especially in front of other residents. They are all cared for, loved, and attended to the very same. At least in my buildings they were!!

There was a very tiny African American lady that became a “favorite” of mine. She had no family that I could find, and absolutely no one ever came to visit her. We became fast friends, and would spend time each day singing old Spirituals and visiting. Oh, how she loved to sing! When she saw me coming around the corner of the hallway, her eyes would light up, and she would grin from ear to ear. One day I arrived at work to discover that she had a massive stroke the night before and was in the hospital. She was dying, and they returned her to the only home and family that she knew at that time…us! She had a tube in her nose, made horrible gurgling sounds, body-jerked a lot from fear, and her eyes would dart around…just practically scared to death! I would hold her hand, stroke her hair, and try to give comfort as best I could. However, I knew that I was NOT meeting her needs. It kept me awake for a number of nights. One night, I sat straight up in my bed, with a good plan of action for the next day… and it did NOT come from a textbook. It just felt like the right thing to do.

I walked into her room, took my shoes off, climbed up into the bed with her, put my arm under her, placed her head on my shoulder, and held her just like a mother would a child. I began singing to her very gently. She stopped jerking, her eyes stopped darting around, and for the first time since she had returned from the hospital, her breathing came easy and she slept. I began doing this several times a day, as often as my schedule would allow. She ended up dying in my arms one morning. She finally found the peace that she so needed, and I felt that I had been able to give her a gift in dying, just as she had given me a gift in living.

We mostly overlook those people who have lived long, full lives, and have now outlived everyone they know. For them, there is no one to say to, “remember when we…” There are no shared memories. They are truly and forever alone. I cannot begin to fathom the depth of loneliness that they must feel and face each day. Each one of you reading this post has the ability to give just a little back to these precious elders. How about spending a little time with an old person? Visit with them, take the time to get to know them, and learn from them. You may find a love and friendship that just might mean more to you than you could possibly imagine. And what it means to them is indescribable. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

You’re not smart enough to do that….

Not too long ago, I gave the opening keynote at a large state association annual conference. The title of my session was: “The Power at Hand.” Basically, I explain to people how much power they have within themselves (most don’t realize this…), and I encourage them to discover that power, and use it for good in their own lives…and subsequently, impact the world in which they live. As is the norm in these type of situations (and a part of my work that I love…), attendees will come up after the session, introduce themselves and we “visit” for a little while. The same routine was occurring at the end of this particular presentation.

As I was talking with some of the people, I noticed a lady over to the side, by herself, waiting to talk with me. She was crying. She very patiently waited for all the other people to leave, and she slowly made her way to me. As she walked towards me, she went from silently crying to almost convulsive sobs. When she got within reaching distance, I stretched out my arms to this perfect stranger, and clutched her to my chest, just like a mother trying to comfort a child. I let her sob for quite a few minutes. 

As the sobs began to subside, she began to tell me her story. The first words out of her mouth were, “I ALWAYS wanted to be a nurse.” I looked at her and asked the obvious question, “Why did you not become one?” She looked at me so pitifully and said that when she was in high school, the career counselor told her she was not smart enough to be a nurse. My first reaction to this revelation was one of total and complete sorrow. The second reaction was one of righteous ANGER!! I wanted vengeance for this woman…I wanted to correct the situation…I wanted that “career” counselor to grovel, prostrate, in front of this broken women, and beg for her forgiveness. But, being the professional that I am, I did not indicate any of that. I realized that the words I spoke to this sweet, sweet woman, were going to be just as important as the words of that high school counselor. 

With my arms still around her, I asked, “What is your current position?” She said, “I am Supervisor of the Activity Department at a nursing facility.” I then asked a question that I already knew the answer to, “Do you have annual state and federal surveys (inspections)?” She indicated that she did. I asked, “Have you ever received a deficiency, or citation for noncompliance?” She said, “No, never!” And then I said, “Then you must be pretty smart! I know the regulations, as well as the survey process, and I am quite aware that an unintelligent person would not be able to pass those surveys.” She looked at me as if she had never thought of that, and said, “You’re RIGHT!!” We talked for quite a while longer, and then I told her that she could still become a nurse if she wanted to…that she had time to do so. I also encouraged her to stop giving that old high school counselor the “power” over her life and how she perceived herself. We parted ways at the end of our conversation…her, a much happier, determined woman…me, a little sadder that she had lost so many years, believing the words of a “professional in authority,” yet, I was also a little happier in that I do believe the words I used actually helped her realize the possibilities and potential of her life.

What words of encouragement to others have you used today? I hear parents telling children how dumb they are, how they are “driving them crazy,” how “bothersome” they are…and my heart breaks for that child. I hear couples continually finding fault with each other, using words and “negatives” to describe actions, intelligence and decisions…and my heart breaks for those couples. I see friends use sweeter words with perfect strangers, just in passing, than they use with the friends of their heart…and my heart breaks for those individuals. A physical blow will at some point heal; that does not diminish its severity. However, words pierce the very souls of children, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, friends, elders, parents, and even though time heals most incidents, “words” are almost always remembered. What do your words say about you? Do your words encourage and comfort those in your life, or do they continually berate and harm? You see in my story that “words” caused a young person to lose belief in a dream, and impacted how she viewed herself the rest of her life. I want my words to be remembered because they were kind, supportive, encouraging, and most of all…LOVING! Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

Yummm…..This is delicious!!

As you can see I am late in my post this week. A long week of repair work at my Dad’s house, followed by a very long road trip back late last night…torrential rain…four long traffic jams due to wrecks…so, the article did not get written. I apologize. I realized that last week was the half-way mark of my year’s commitment to this blog. I can’t believe that I have actually written 26 articles! I hope that you still enjoy reading them as much as I do writing them. So, here is this week’s story…

My Mother was one of the greatest cooks ever!! Period!! No argument!! If I could only be half the cook she was, I would be considered a “wonder in the kitchen.” It was one summer many years ago, and fresh peaches had just come into harvest. As anyone knows from the South, there is nothing quite like that first bite of a fresh, home-grown peach. Mama had gone down to the little farmer’s market in town, by the courthouse, and had purchased some fresh peaches. She was planning on making us an “out of this world” peach cobbler. She had a new recipe, and she could not wait to try it out on us.

All afternoon we were forced to smell the delicious aromas coming out of the kitchen. Our mouths were drooling just with the expectation of what was to come! The time finally arrived for her to pull the cobbler out of the oven and share her “masterpiece” with the family. We were all oohing and ahhhing over her creation…it looked like a cobbler straight out of the pages of Southern Living Magazine…and smelled something wonderful!

Mother got us each a bowl and we stood in line to get a scoop of that peach cobbler. She stuck a  spoon into the cobbler to dip the first serving out…only there was a  problem…the spoon could not break the surface of the cobbler. She dug in with a little more force, attempting to scoop up a bite full. Still no luck! We all began looking at each other, wondering what was going on. She finally got a knife and attempted to cut us a piece of cobbler. The knife would not even make a dent in the cobbler. By this time Mother was so distressed, and we were famished for the taste of what we had smelled all afternoon. Finally my Father picked up the cobbler as one piece and tried to tear it apart. By this time, all of us were on the floor laughing hysterically, for you see, Mama NEVER messed up with cooking! And it was so funny seeing Daddy trying to tear the cobbler apart with his bare hands, so we could all get a little taste. He was finally successful in getting each of us a little piece to “gnaw on.” The taste was out of this world…you just couldn’t eat it!! We got to calling it the “peach pot pie.” And for years afterward, all anyone would have to say is “peach pot pie” and it would send us all into shrieks, and we would relive the event once again. My Mother never did figure out what happened to make it turn out so disastrously, but it sure turned into one of our favorite family “moments.”

So many times we make very specific plans and arrangements as to how “things should go” in our lives…family gatherings, meals, events, celebrations, holidays… And most times, things never go according to plans. And oh, the stress we place on ourselves trying to achieve that “perfection.” Maybe we should relax a little, and try not to make everything so “perfect,” for out of imperfection may come one of the most cherished moments of your life. I’m not going to worry so much about perfection. I will strive for excellence, but even in failure, there may just be some success…Won’t you join me? Just for this week…