Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Jaki Jean on Reintroducing Jean to the Stephanie Plum Series.

Providing my mother Jean with a steady supply of reading material proves challenging at times.

Jean enjoys the writings of Max Lucado & opens each morning with a reading of his series on meditations.

On Sundays, she reads the Bible – last Sunday she read Joshua, Judges & Ruth.

She has read the Twilight series, Stieg Larsson’s Lisabeth Salander series, followed Alex Cross & Eve Duncan & Tommy Lynley & Adam Dagleish & Kay Scarpetta & Maisie Dobbs.  We share a voracious love of mysteries.

She has read all of my favorite authors – every piece of fiction I studied & continue to read.  She has read works aimed at a middle school audience – works I find fascinating because they did not exist in my middle school life.

Recently, she read Willa Cather’s “Song of the Lark.”

I tried to entice her into an early P.D. James novel – pre Adam Dalgliesh.  When that failed, I pulled a hardback off the shelves, a book I bought, inexplicably, at a dollar store.

It was Janet Evanovich’s “Fearless at Fourteen.

Fifteen years ago, I worked for a division of Sprint.  It remains one of my favorite experiences.  Hired by a woman with whom I had worked at two other companies, it was almost stress free.

My position offered me a generous salary, with an allotted  budget to choose a benefit package.  A nice office, a lovely view, a short commute & an array of lovely & interesting co-workers. 

One morning each month was stressful.  Preparing a report for the field, dependent on the field’s accurate & timely reporting to our office.  Even the journal entries to be uploaded to the corporate office under strict timelines designed for SEC reporting were less stressful.

But it was one day.

Every other day was a delight. 

Within a few months after 911 & the fall of Enron, Sprint closed our division.  We were all given severance packages in accordance with our tenure, packets instructing us on how to file unemployment, apply for Cobra & links to employment websites & resume services.

I was one of three team members who remained to the absolute end.  During the transition, when we trained teams from other towns & divisions to do our jobs, we were given an amazing amount of paid down time, encouraged to find a job, use the company’s resources.

Eventually, Sprint moved us from our lovely window view offices in Houston’s Galleria area to share space with our division’s IT department – most of whom preferred to work in the dark. 

Accounting is difficult to approach in the dark.

Our cubicles were amazing – giant, with storage & lighting we each could control.  Ergonomically designed chairs.  Counter space galore.

As more & more of the team left by choice for another position or were laid off, something unusual happened.

I began to hear laughter, single bursts of laughter, from different cubicles.  Curious, I started investigating (believe me, there was not a lot to do in those last days – mostly we exchanged job leads & planned lunch).

Co-workers were in their cubicles alone, not on the phone.

But reading.

And laughing out loud.

That is how I discovered the Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich.

I read my way through them during those last months at Sprint & for years after, mostly in paperbacks.  

Paperbacks, unless they are of fine quality & larger than one associates with a paperback, are now problematic for Jean with her Parkinson’s.  Books in general can be difficult – she can only turn pages & control the turn with her right hand.  She can no longer control movement in the fingers of her left hand. 

Since I reintroduced her to Stephanie Plum, she has not put the book down except to eat, sleep or watch the Texans  & Wheel of Fortune.

This weekend, I will be making a trek to Half-Price books for Stephanie Plum novels.

And probably re-read each again myself & laugh out loud.  So will Jean.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Jaki Jean On Losing a Grocery Store

A few weeks ago, while shopping at my neighborhood grocery store, a store I often describe without affection, – I recognized a face.

I have been shopping at this store since it opened – & when it was in its first location.  Established by a family owned corporation that sold out to a much larger corporate entity, I have watched as quality, service & consistency suffered & faded from that change.  

I shopped in the days when management hired the elderly & disabled & amazing young people & if I forgot my checkbook, I could sign the receipt & return the next visit with payment.

That was a long day ago.

A few weeks ago was not the first time I recognized a face or someone recognized my face or that the recognition revealed the store as the connection.

It has happened at the strangest moments – taking my mother to a lab for blood work & a man smiling at me & asking me about myself & family, certain he recognized me from somewhere.

That man & I later saw one another at my neighborhood grocery story & realized that we knew one another from that same store.

A few years ago, a young woman smiled at me in the meat aisle & said:

You probably don't remember me.  I used to work at The Walden School - I am Miss Cathy's daughter.  I remember your son Sam & how you used to make your own dog food for a geriatric dog.

But the other day, recognition in the store or about the store meant something different.

The store is fading – the prices increase each week, luring customers in with deals for multiple purchases.  The building itself is fading, lacking diligent & proper maintenance.
I make small trips during the week – because I am not comfortable with leaving my mother for long.  

Many of the employees at this fading establishment know me by name.

The other day, a few weeks ago, I thought I recognized a face from the not so distant past.  One of my favorite cashiers, Patsy.

Patsy knew every regular customer in her line by name.  She visited with each, but still managed to keep the line moving.  She was amazing.  I would wait behind too many people to go through her line.

One day she disappeared.  I asked another of my favorite cashiers, Rebecca, where Patsy has gone.  Rebecca told me that Patsy had taken another job, in a different field.

A few weeks later, I found Patsy in the produce section.  Curious, I asked her about the new job.  She explained that she had not gone job hunting, but that the opportunity simply fell into her lap.

One of her regular customers had hired her right out from behind the register.

While I was saddened at the thought of going through the checkout line without her smile & warmth, I understood.  I was just surprised that it had not happened sooner.
Patsy was what my former supervisor & friend Barbara Smith called, “a shiny penny.” 

Over the ensuing years, I have grieved over the loss of that shiny penny from my grocery shopping experience.  Followed by the loss of my other favorite cashier Rebecca.

Then, a few weeks ago, I watched a store supervisor assisting a cashier.  It was Patsy.
Eventually, we crossed paths, once again in a checkout line.  The store was crowded & reinforcements had been called in from the upstairs office.

When my turn at checkout came, I smiled & told her that I was glad to see her.  Patsy replied:

Ms. Ettinger?  It is nice to see you again.

Our little one square hamlet, its borders framed by Houston & Sugar Land & Stafford, attracted an Aldi’s.  It is scheduled to open in the next few months.  I watch the construction progress greedily, longing for an option to my only local, get in & out in fifteen minutes store.

Outside of what I so often reference without affection, all other traditional stores available in the area are a trek that does not meet my time constraints as a caregiver.

And I love Aldi’s, its prices, the quality of its brands.  I still cannot make the leap from Hellman’s mayo or Grey Poupon or Heinz ketchup or Silk Cashew milk or those wickedly delicious pickles, Wickles or Blue Bell ice cream to an Aldi brand.

I will still shop for those items & chocolate for my mother Jean & frequent the pharmacy & floral department at the other end of the city from Aldi’s.

But it will no longer enjoy the profit from the bulk of my grocery purchases.

And I will miss the shiny pennies. 

Patsy, of course.  Michael who sacks my groceries whenever I am in a lane, always thanking me by my first name.   Jimmy, who works in the meat department & gives me a hug every time he encounters me.  Maria, who is a joy to behold – her hair styles a marvel to me.  I will miss Cedric, who has worked there for so many years that the staff throws a store wide celebration on his birthday.  

Cedric is non-verbal & does not hear.  He reads lips, his face so expressive that signing is not always necessary to understand what he is saying.

When I fell last year & had a head on collision with the tile, floor, Cedric encountered me in an aisle, my left arm in a sling, my left eye & left side in varying shades of black, purple & yellow. 

Cedric wept.  I could see the worry & concern in his eyes & face.  He signed, asking me what happened.  I assured him that no one had hurt me, that I had fallen, that it looked much worse that it felt.  I did not tell him that it still hurt like hell.

Recognizing Patsy was different than encountering other friends or distant relatives or peers or acquaintances.   It initiated a sense of loss.

Seeing Patsy again in a familiar setting reminded me how deeply I will miss those shiny pennies.  I will miss cashiers & sackers & managers greeting me & asking about my mother Jean.  

For all these years, I have shopped at a store where the players changed but most eventually knew my face, a great deal of my story, & my name.

But the lure of Aldi's awaits . . .