The Power of Hello

I go to the grocery store, on average 20-21 days every month.  That’s like going every single day for 3 weeks and then taking a week off.

My shopping frequency combined with my New Year’s Resolution to not use the self check-out has given me ample opportunity to get to know the people at my local store.

One cashier is coming up on her 50th high school reunion.

Another was at work shortly after surgery, telling me, “I can’t afford to take three weeks off. My family needs the money.”

A male cashier thanked me for shopping at Safeway — but I was at Price Chopper. His eyes widened and he put his hand over his mouth. “I can’t believe I said that. I haven’t worked at Safeway for over 10 years.” Plus, for the record, there are no Safeways in our area. He and I laughed about it. “Your secret is safe with me,” I told him — except, I guess, it wasn’t because I just told all of you.

One of the deli guys took up the challenge of slicing my swiss cheese thin. “Is that thin enough?” he asked, holding up an imaginary slice of cheese held between his forefinger and thumb. We both laughed.

Then there was the cashier with the sugar-daddy. (See “In the Parking Lot“)

I now recognize most of the people who work in the meat department, the flower shop, the service desk, and produce, and I try to greet them. It was an introvert hurdle — but I think I’ve gotten over it.

The other day, one of the produce guys greeted me. I had grabbed my bunch of bananas and was headed out when he said, “Are you Sally?”

“Yes,” I replied, wondering how he knew my name.

Then he asked again, this time adding my maiden name.

“Yes,” I said, “How did you…”

Before I could finish, he introduced himself. He had graduated with me from high school.

Boys can undergo a dramatic metamorphosis between high school and life. I doubt I would recognize many of the boys-turned-men with whom I graduated just on sight. He was no exception.

As soon as he said his name, of course, I remembered him. I remembered when his family moved to Cooperstown. They were from a strange place called Lon Guyland. In fact, it was always referred to as “down Lon Guyland.”

Besides my mother’s Boston that snuck into her speech every once in a while, and a local doctor who was decidedly southern, I couldn’t have identified any other American regional accents. Now I could add Long Island to the list.

That day in the grocery store, I was so happy that he said something to me. It was the day I wrote “Bleh” and was feeling just like that.

Discouraged.

A mess.

A failure.

And then someone reintroduced himself to me. As we caught up on each other’s lives, it turned my day around.

The power of a simple hello.

Last night, the local guy behind me in line said, “Remind me why we like Cooperstown in the summer.”

The store was crowded with tourists. The couple ahead of us in line, probably grandparents come to watch their grandson play at the Dreams Park, hadn’t noticed the Express Lane sign for the register — 15 items or less.  But all the registers were busy like that.

Cooperstown in the summer: Busy. Crowded. Baseball teams. Tour buses. No parking spots. Few familiar faces.

Across the store, I could see Mark putting out tomatoes in the produce section. I thought about how nice it is to live among people who have known my family for nearly half a century, and especially how nice it is to be recognized and greeted.

“Because it’s lovely,” I replied.

Presence

I did it again, grasped hand after hand, received hug after hug in a receiving line.

Few things are more draining for the introvert than the receiving line. We do it — I do it — for people I love.

Like my brother, Stewart.

Like my mother.

The receiving line for my mother’s memorial service stretched out and curved into another section of the building so I could never see how long it was or if the end was near. I stood near my father who insisted on standing even though a chair was placed right behind him.

The neurons in my brain don’t fire well in the facial recognition area. I struggle to remember people. Thankfully, many people began with their name — “I’m so-and-so. I knew your mother from such-and-such.”

Even people I knew fairly well helped me out by saying their name — and it was such a help. My mind was overbooked and understaffed; everything was hard.

How long had I been there? An hour? More? Over and over I repeated, “Thank you so much for coming.” “Thank you.” “Thank you.”

A woman took my hand in that two-handed clasp of sincerity.

“Jane Forbes Clark,” she said, and I looked up, immediately recognizing her.

One cannot grow up in Cooperstown without knowing the name and face of the woman who is now at the helm of so many organizations in our area. She sits on the stage at the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony with the Hall-of-Famers and welcomes everyone to our town. Her picture is often in the newspaper, accompanying stories about grants given by the Clark Foundation or expansion happening at Bassett Hospital or the Clark Sports Center or the Baseball Hall of Fame. And that is just a tiny, tiny tip of a very huge iceberg.

My eyes met hers, and I felt tears stinging mine. “I know who you are,” I said. “I can’t believe you’re here.”

“I wouldn’t have missed this,” she said, and she moved on to speak with my father.

She had met my mother, I think, through my father’s work on the Board of Trustees for Bassett.

But she came to my mother’s memorial service.

It’s kind of crazy how much that meant to me.

My mother was a nurse who gave up her career to raise a family. She volunteered in many community organizations, and when my youngest brother was independent enough, she worked a few days a week for the Red Cross.

At the end of the day, though, my mom was a mom.

Like me.

It’s not a glorious job.

People don’t ooh and aah over your accomplishments. It certainly doesn’t pay well — in money, that is.

(Side note: When we were in North Carolina, mining for gems at Doc’s Rocks Gem Mine — my husband, all eight of my children, three spouses, and one grandchild — a woman who worked there told my father that I was rich. When he told me that, I laughed, and said, “Yeah, and maybe some day I’ll have money, too.” I am very wealthy, though.)

But Jane Clark saw fit to honor my mother by coming to her memorial service and waiting forever in line to offer condolences to my father. She was warm and gracious.

IMG_8226Last night, Jane Clark spoke at the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Grandstand Theater about her family’s legacy in Cooperstown.

I was part of the crowd that got in to hear her. My husband and I volunteered to sit on the floor so that others could have seats as they tried to squeeze as many people in as they could. Still, over 100 people were turned away.

She spoke for about 20 minutes, methodically explaining the history of the three main Clark organizations involved in Cooperstown:  the Clark Foundation, the Scriven Foundation, and Leatherstocking Corporation. She rattled off some astounding facts and figures, most of which I don’t remember because once someone is talking about millions or billions my brain shuts off  — that kind of money is incomprehensible to me.

Over 11,000 students, though. I remember that number because that’s how many students have been given college scholarships (totaling millions) by the Clark Foundation — and I was one of them.

In the Q & A that followed, a less-analytical, less-statistical Jane Clark emerged. She laughed and told stories. Here was the woman I had seen at my mother’s memorial service – warm and friendly.

Many people didn’t ask questions; they simply said thank you.

“Thank you for the scholarship. My family was poor. Without it I could not have gone to college.”

“Thank you for the emerald necklace of open space around Cooperstown.” ’tis true — we have the Clark family to thank for the adjectives of bucolic and pastoral used to describe Cooperstown.

“Thank you for the Clark Sports Center.” This woman went on to tell of how her son (or was it grandson?) wondered what children in other towns did without a Clark Sports Center.

She told stories of how the Baseball Hall of Fame came to be in Cooperstown and why Kingfisher Tower was built. Fascinating lore — even better hearing it from her lips.

When it was over, I approached her to give her my own thanks. Not for the scholarship, not for the green belt which borders my father’s land, not even for the Clark Sports Center where I work — I thanked her for coming to my mother’s memorial service.

“You’re very welcome,” she said. “Please give my best to your father.”

Some things are worth so much more than money.