Money of My Own

Money of My Own

From A 4th Course of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Money of My Own

“May I help you?” I asked.

It was one of the two jobs I held. But staying in college was worth it. The first job was cold calling, making calls to people’s homes, asking them if they wanted a subscription to one magazine or the other. Since the calls were placed between five and 10 at night, most people considered the call an intrusion either on their dinner plans, their family time, or both. But my job at Wolfe’s Department Store was a different matter. More like fun than work, here my task was to straighten the rows of beautiful garments made from the most refined fabrics of intricately woven threads and sell them to lovely women with manicured nails and salon-kept hairstyles—women who could afford such things—or who wanted to.

“Oh, I hope so,” she said wistfully. She was a pretty woman of about 35.Wearing a yellow sundress and sandals, her long auburn hair hung in soft curls around her shoulders.

“It’s my husband’s class reunion in six weeks and I want to look absolutely wonderful for him,” she said. “Six weeks ago I was here and saw a gorgeous peach-colored silk dress. Only after I tried it on, did I realize how much it cost so I was almost relieved when the style revealed the extra pounds I was still carrying from my pregnancy. But the dress was so pretty, it motivated me to get back in shape, and now that I am, and with the reunion in just a couple of weeks, I told myself I better start shopping for a dress to wear. I was hoping that I’d find that dress, though I can’t imagine that such an exquisite dress would still be here, but maybe, I thought, just maybe. Or, you might have something like it.”

I said, “Let’s look around to see if the dress is still here.” We walked through the four rows of racks of perfectly hung clothes, but the dress she was looking for was nowhere in sight. I could tell by her body language that she was really disappointed.

Her heavy exhale was as lengthy as her deeply drawn inhale. “Oh gosh,” she said, obviously let down.

“Last week we received a new shipment of silk dresses,” I said encouragingly, trying as much to please and appease her as to be helpful. “They’re over here, if you’d like to look at them. Maybe we can find something similar, or maybe one you’ll like even better.” I led her to the rack of new dresses that had just come in. She looked through them slowly, carefully touching the delicate fabrics with her long graceful fingers.

“Oh,” she lamented, as she looked over the elegant apparel, “you should have seen that dress.” Her eyes widened with her smile. She began to look around at other things, but still enchanted by the special dress she had seen some weeks back, continued to describe it in great detail. Suddenly, it occurred to me that we just might have a couple of these dresses still in the store. Several items had been moved to another department to make room for the new shipment of things in ours.

“What size do you wear?” I asked.

“Size 6,” she answered.

“If you don’t mind waiting,” I said, “I’ll have a look in another department. I’ll be right back.”

When I returned, I found her sitting in a chair, patiently waiting for me. It was clear that the peach-colored silk dress with the cloth-covered buttons was the dress of her choice, and she would wait. When she saw me coming with the very dress she had described, she stood up, and with a look of amazement on her face, covered her mouth with both hands.

“Oh,” she said excitedly. “That’s it! That’s the dress!”

“Size 6!” I said, gleefully holding it out to her. “And, it’s on sale, 40 percent off!”

The woman could hardly believe her good fortune. She took the dress and quickly disappeared into the dressing room. Moments later, she emerged to observe herself in the full-length mirror. Slowly she turned to observe herself from every angle, carefully scrutinizing the image in the mirror before her. She was right, the dress was absolutely beautiful, and she looked resplendent in it. But it was more than the transformation of the dress from the frame of the hanger to the frame of her body. She felt lovely and elegant in the dress, and her face radiated her joy. She looked at me, and smiled. No words needed to be exchanged. It was obvious the designer had a woman such as she in mind when it was fashioned.

“Thank you, thank you so much. .. ,” she squinted to read the print on my gold name tag—”Bettie, and, oh, by the way, my name is Molly.”

Molly paid for the dress in cash; carefully unwrapping a bundle mostly of small bills, counting out the exact amount needed for the dress, then, laying it on the counter. I wrapped up her beautiful new dress and put it in an elegant shopping bag. As I handed it to her, Molly reached out her hand to touch mine, and in a soft, sincere voice said, “Thank you so much again for all of your help, Bettie. I’m so happy you found this dress for me. I can’t wait to wear it.”

I was even more sure that when I was married I would take delight in doing things to be special for my husband as she had for hers. It also dawned on me that helping others feel so happy was a better way to earn a living than interrupting someone’s dinner plans and family time with magazine sales.

The idea was short-lived.

One evening a few days later, a very handsome man came up to my counter. He tossed a Wolfe’s shopping bag on the desk and barked, “This is a return.” Through pursed lips, he added, “For cash.”

I opened the bag and there lay a beautiful silk size 6 peach-colored dress. I flipped the tag over, and in my handwriting were the store code numbers, the date of the sale, and my register code.

“All the tags are still on it,” a woman’s voice said softly. I looked up, and there, standing several feet behind him, stood Molly, looking meek and embarrassed. I didn’t understand.

“Oh,” I said, surprised that the dress was being returned. “Is there something wrong with this dress? If so, we have an alteration department that can fix it for you.”

“No, there’s nothing wrong with the dress,” the man shot back. “No one in her right mind would pay this much for a dress.” He went on to say other things, too, all designed for intimidation.

I made the exchange—her dress for her carefully saved money. The man took “his” money, shoved it into his pocket and ordered, “C’mon, let’s get out of here.” He led the way as they left.

The incident seemed like a scene in a movie that’s out of sequence and doesn’t quite belong. Incomplete, like a puzzle that’s missing just one last piece; like falling hail in a rainstorm on a hot sunny summer’s day, like a Christmas tree with a star but no lights or ornaments, or someone showing up at a formal banquet in a bathing suit. It just didn’t fit. In the short time I’d helped Molly, I’d seen only her beauty, her gentle nature and genuine desire to please her husband. Knowing little else, I assumed the recipient of such love would behave in a way that merited such treatment—would even treat the giver in a like manner.

Thoughts of that incident haunted me for several days. It seemed so abrupt, so unjust. My first thoughts centered around how I would feel if this had happened to me. I concluded that not only would I earn my own money in life, but make my own decisions, as well.

Still unable to put the incident out of my mind, I wondered if he knew how much thought had gone into her purchase. If only he knew the loving actions that went with the purchase, perhaps then he might have let her keep the dress, or handled the situation differently—or at least treated his wife differently. Then again, perhaps he wouldn’t.

The following weeks, I saw that the dress was marked down even further. Each time my eyes caught sight of it, I felt a sense of disquiet.

While alphabetizing the returned merchandise slips from our department for the store’s accounting office several days later, I came upon the couple’s return receipt. As though it were an omen of some kind, the man’s telephone number stood out. Deciding it was a small risk, I called the man at his work.

“Sir,” I said, “I hope I’m not disturbing you. I’m the salesclerk who waited on you and your wife when you came in to return a dress she had purchased.”

“Yes, I remember you,” came the disgruntled reply. “What do you need?”

“I may be out of line here,” I began, “but, well, your wife made such an impression on me, and I thought you ought to know.. .” the line remained silent so I continued, “what a truly beautiful woman she is and not only in her outward appearance, but in the love and devotion she portrays to you and your new son. I could tell you weren’t happy about the money she had spent on that dress, but it seemed so important to your wife to look beautiful for you and make you proud of her at your reunion, and she was so pleased to find the price had been substantially discounted.” Drawing a deep breath, I continued, “She honestly bought it with you in mind, and now the dress has just been marked down even further. Can’t you let her have it?” I pleaded.

It seemed so logical and simple to me. In a last effort to convey my message, I added, “I guess what I’m trying to say is something my father taught me when he said, ‘It’s good to value the things money can buy, but it’s good, too, to check up once in a while and make sure you haven’t lost the precious things in life that money can’t buy.’ ”

My hopes rose at what I saw as a thoughtful silence, before being crushed when he answered, “You’re right, you’re out of line. And I think I made my intentions clear when I was in the store. But thanks for thinking of us.” With that, he hung up. No “good-bye,” just the harsh click of the phone—our communication severed.

Having been so thoroughly dismissed, I felt discounted, like an uneducated schoolgirl working in a clothing store. These feelings didn’t find a home for long; I’d known the risk before calling; I expressed my feelings. I wanted him to know what I thought. He was the one who was emotionally illiterate here, not me. It was worth the call—even though I wished things could have turned out differently.

When I came to work a couple of days later, I was greeted by a bouquet of white daisies with a note that read, “Thank you for your thoughtfulness.” The card held no signature.

“When did this arrive?” I asked Helen, my coworker.

“Yesterday,” she responded.

“Do you have any idea who they’re from?”

“We assumed you had a secret admirer!”

Puzzled, I went about my work as usual.

I was rehanging some apparel when an excited, vaguely familiar voice said, “I was hoping I’d find you here!”

“Oh, it’s good to see you again Molly,” I said, surprised. Why hadn’t I put it together? Of course the daisies had been from her, a peace offering for her husband’s rudeness.

“He bought it for me!” she said gleefully. She didn’t have any doubts that I’d remember what “it” was, as her words seem to burst forth in her obvious delight.

Pleasantly stunned by her words, I found myself grinning as widely as she was. “Oh, I’m so happy for you—the dress was made for you!”

“But that’s not all,” she went on, unfastening her purse to retrieve something even as she spoke. “In fact, it’s not even the best part. I just had to show you—look at the note he put in with it when he gave it to me.” Unconsciously touching it to her heart, as if it were infinitely precious to her, she then thrust the note toward me, obviously eager to share her joy.

Unfolding it carefully, my smile at her happiness still in place, I read the note’s bold handwriting.

Darling,

I’m sorry that I’velet the pressure of my work and being a good provider cause me to lose sight of just what it is I’m working fo r. I’m also sorry it took me this long to realize how much you d e serve this dress. It’s taken me too long to realize a lot of things—including how beautiful you’ll look wearing it. And most importantly, I’ve realized just how lucky I am to have you, and your love. Thank you for loving me as you d o.

Yours Forever,

XOXOXO

I felt her watch me as I read it silently, and yet, it was her eyes that were moist with tears. She was no doubt, rereading it with her heart, each word memorized, forever etched in her heart. The fullness of her heart touched me as much as the humility and love in the words of his note.

“That’s wonderful, Molly,” I said, really meaning it.

“I thought so too,” she replied. “I just had to let you know. Hey, lovely flowers,” she said gazing at the daisies sitting next to the cash register. “Are they from your boyfriend?” Not waiting for a reply, she continued, “You know, my husband sent me a bouquet of roses yesterday.

Oh, I just love that man.”

I said nothing. There seemed something wise in my decision not to tell her about the call I made to her husband— or the white daisies he had sent me for the wake-up call—thanking me for reminding him how special he was to her.

Hearts at work. Amazing aren’t they?

Bettie B. Youngs

Excerpted from
Gifts of the Heart

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