Life lessons

I Should Have Said Hello

I don’t have many regrets in my life. I can think of a few things I’ve thrown away I wish I still owned, but no biggies there. There’s some stupid stuff I’ve said. I will admit, also, to mistakes I’ve made with relationships. The one experience that bugs me still happened when I was a child.

I was eight or nine, perhaps, and a Brownie Scout. That’s a picture of me above, looking awfully skinny in my uniform. One year, I found out I could go to a day camp for free if I sold enough Girl Scout cookies. My enthusiastic parents, especially my Dad, went into full gear, hitting up the people they knew, including those my father, an autobody repairman, worked with at the Ford dealership. They sold enough, so I could go.

It was my first experience being away from home and school. I didn’t know any of the girls, but as the week went on, I got close to one. I will also note she was Black, which shouldn’t make any difference, but it does later in this story. We did all the activities and ate lunch together. We acted like the silly little girls we were.

Later that summer, I was with my mother and sisters shopping in downtown New Bedford — a lively strip then of department and other stores during those pre-mall days. We were walking along the sidewalk when I spotted my camper friend and a woman I presume was her mother.

I remember the girl was happy when she recognized me. But what did I do? I passed by and pretended I didn’t know her. I recall distinctly she asked the woman why I didn’t say hello. I didn’t hear her response.

I knew then I did wrong. I should have said hello. I should have told my mother the girl and I went to camp together.

But I didn’t. And I wish I had.

Yes, I was a shy girl then. (That might surprise some folks who know me now, but I worked on it.) I lived a sheltered life in a small town. Also, being fully Portuguese, I am more brown than white. But still … I ponder today what stopped me then from doing what should have been a natural thing.

Compared to what is happening now in the world, my snub may seem rather small. But I believe it’s one of those lessons I learned as a kid that helped shape me as an adult. When it comes to my fellow human beings, I try to look for common denominators. I want to know about our different experiences. Certainly, living in big cities, small towns, and in multicultural Northern New Mexico has given me numerous opportunities.

But when it comes to that little girl, I honestly wish for a do-over, but sadly that’s not possible. Lesson learned.


Anger on the Menu

While in my hometown recently, I settled for a fast food place when the restaurant I wanted wasn’t open. It was a favorite of my mother, who I was visiting at a convalescent home, and I thought it would make this meal a tribute of sorts. But I wasn’t prepared for what else was on the menu.

As I stood looking at the menu on the wall to find something I would want to eat, I overheard an exchange several feet away between a customer and the young woman behind the counter. The man, middle-aged with a long bushy beard, was complaining loudly. It concerned points he had accumulated and a burger with cheese and bacon he felt he was entitled to get. He wanted the problem fixed right then and there.

The woman behind the counter said he would need to speak with a manager who wasn’t available right then. But the man wouldn’t let it go. It was clear he thought he was being ripped off and was angry about it.

I realize this restaurant chain has its rules, but the common sense thing would have been to make amends with this unhappy customer by offering him something on the menu for free although that might not have satisfied him. But obviously the woman didn’t feel she could do anything like that on her own.

The exchange made me uncomfortable. I didn’t know this man and what he was capable of doing. I flashed on national events of recent weeks, in which acts of violence were committed in public places or on private property. Surely, you have read or heard about them.

I left the restaurant and stood outside. There’s no way I wanted to be a victim of this man’s rage. But I also didn’t want fear to rule my life.

So I went back inside.

The man was no longer at the counter. I spotted him eating in the far corner. I gave my order and when the wrap arrived, I found a seat on the opposite side. As I ate, the woman who worked behind the counter stopped after she had finished cleaning a table.

“How is your food?” she asked.

I told her it was good. Then I mentioned the exchange she had with the customer. She said she was waiting for the manager still.

I told her, “Considering what’s been happening, that made me a little nervous.”

Her face was serious as she nodded. “I know what you mean,” she said.

As I left, the man had finished his dinner and was back at the counter. I hope he and the manager were able to find a satisfying solution, a common ground. We surely need more of that these days.

ABOUT THE IMAGE ABOVE: That’s one of three flowering bushes in our side yard we believe are azaleas.