So, today I made an old man cry. I don’t think I started out my day with that intention. Actually, I’m quite certain that the thought has never, ever crossed my mind. My day started out a bit earlier than usual. I had a parent-teacher conference for my daughter, so I decided to go to the gym early in the morning. Too early. After that, I went to the meeting, which went surprisingly well. It’s good to know that there are teachers out there who are genuinely concerned for their students. I guess special education teachers are even more aware of their student’s needs. Anyway, I am grateful that my daughter has an excellent teacher. I’m also glad that I had my own conference with her to avoid the potential…or inevitable drama that occurs when my ex is present.
Today was off to a good start. Gym- check. School meeting- check. Off to work. It was a pretty typical Thursday for retail/commercial sales. We were fairly busy, so the day was going by pretty quickly- plus, I had a late lunch break, so closing time was coming fast. It was right around 4:00 when the old man walked through the door. I was standing behind the counter, so I saw him come in. I’d guess he was in his 80’s. He was wearing an old man’s suit. Not that it was a bad suit. It was a suit that had seen many years of use. I’d bet he had a few suits like it and he still wore one every day.
You probably know somebody like him. A man from another time, trying to make sense of the craziness of modern times. Adjusting and readjusting to the world. Working at a store that has been around for 128 years, we get our share of older customers, so it wasn’t all that unusual. I watched him walk to the counter where a coworker was also standing. He presented a small, wooden, oval box in his old, bruised, shaking hands. He gently placed it on the counter. Don said, “so, what do we have here?” The old man took off the top of the box. Then, he carefully removed a tiny, metal replica of an old sewing machine and presented it to Don. I walked around the big counter and moved in closer, next to the old man. He then reached into the box again and took out another piece. It was a small clock, about the size of a ladies watch. He explained that he had been attempting to repair the tiny keepsake, but the parts were so small, he couldn’t do it. He said the tiny screws may be stripped and he could not reattach the clock. I asked to see it and after examining it, I suggested that maybe it wasn’t the screws that were stripped, but the holes in the time piece. This brought a new sadness to his face, as he asked if we had any suggestions of who might be able to repair it for him. He said he would be happy to pay anybody to fix it. He needed to get it repaired. Don told him he didn’t know of anybody. The old man frowned. I took a closer look. I told him we might be able to use a longer screw and try to catch some of the deeper threads that were still intact. I took the clock to the section of the store where the very tiny metric screws are kept and then returned to the counter with two long 2mm screws and a 2mm nut.
When I got back to the counter, the old man was telling Don the story of the sewing machine clock. He had bought it for his wife over twenty years ago and she had loved it. The sewing machine was one of her favorite things, but she had recently been moved to a nursing home and it was misplaced in the shuffle. He paused and looked up at me and asked if I could fix it. I gave him a not so reassuring “maybe.” He continued on with his story, and I got to work on the piece, shortening the long, tiny screws with some cutting pliers and re-threading them with the nut. It took a while, but the old man’s story was playing in the background. He said his wife was on a waiting list for a local nursing home, but was lucky to get into a temporary spot in a disgustingly expensive home in Connecticut, which was about an hour away for him. A long way to travel daily for anybody, let alone a man of his age. He told us how she remembers some things, but not others and recognizes most people, but if you walk away and come back, you have to start all over again. He told us how much she loved the little sewing machine gift and how important it was to bring it to her. All the while, I was trying to hold the tiny little screws in my fat fingers, cutting and threading and re-cutting to get them to the proper length and attempting to fit them into their place, while the small crowd at the counter watched.
Finally, I got the little screws snugged up in place and the clock was securely mounted where it belonged. I took a towel and wiped the whole thing down, polishing the glass, as if it were a Rolex. Then I showed it to the old man, placed it in the box and said, “You’re all set, sir.”
He said “It’s fixed???” and reached into his pocket with his shaking hands and pulled out his wallet asking how much he owed us. I said, “No charge, sir. Merry Christmas.” Don told him his money is no good here and wished him luck with everything.
I was a bit choked up and I could tell everyone was a little emotional, but as the man left, Don said, “You know you just made that old man cry? There were tears in his eyes when he left.”
So, yes. I made an old man cry today. It’s funny how life goes. Everybody has a story. Everybody has their own problems and challenges. Normally, most of us walk through each day focused solely on our own issues-not even considering what is going on in the lives of the dozens of people we come into contact with. No matter how bad things are for you- and trust me, sometimes, they’re gonna be pretty bad- there is always going to be somebody going through something worse. When you see it that way, the big problems seem to get just a little smaller. Maybe we’re all joined by a common bond of wanting things to be just a little bit better…for everybody.
Now, do me a favor and go make somebody cry.
Merry Christmas to all.