Friday, September 19, 2008

An Extra Special Customer and Friend

A conversation yesterday with one of our senior customers got me thinking about one of our special, all-time favorite friends here at LaDeDa. If you're reading this and thinking, "Hey, they shouldn't be snitching on their customers," you are so right. We have a firm policy about not discussing our customers, or their buying habits. It's in our staff handbook, just as a reminder to all of us. But really, I don't think there's any harm in sharing a few flattering stories about friends. So, on to Madge - which is NOT her real name... not even close to her real name, and don't try to pry it out of me, either!
Madge has been a customer since we first opened. In the late 90's, she was still driving, and could get in and out of our store easily. As the years went on, her mobility lessened. Madge started sending friends in to shop for her, but we missed the small talk that was always a part of her visits. I decided that she needed to know she was missed, and sent her a card. She started calling, "just to chat." Madge is hard of hearing, so when she called there was a whole lot of shouting into the phone on my end.
For the past four or five years, we have been delivering books when Madge needs them. When I get there, she usually has a little job lined up for me. Sometimes I get to bring in the recycling bin, or sweep the snow off her front porch. Most times she has a stack of mail for me to take to the post office, a corner box will never do. While she shuffles off to the bedroom to get her checkbook, I try glancing at her to-do list, which is always on the dining room table, to see if there are other errands I can run.
Now, don't get me wrong, the idea that Madge is taking advantage of me has never entered my mind. In fact, the exact opposite is true. I can't imagine anyone sweeter than this tiny woman. I always call about 15 minutes before making a delivery, giving her time to get pulled together. Madge is from that generation of women who would never be seen with a hair out of place, let alone in a bathrobe. She is always nice and pretty when I get there. All dressed for the day - always in a dress and sensible shoes. She has applied make-up, and fixed her hair. There is always a tiny adornment on her dress, and a splash of "Evening in Paris" perfume in the air.
Madge insists that I come in for a minute and "rest" while she writes a check. The first time I delivered books to her, she gave me a quarter. I felt richly rewarded! Over the years, many other surprises greeted me at Madge's tiny, cottage home. Once, I got a plate of home baked horns, still warm from the oven. I know everything about her family. Not just the current events I see when she shares photos from family trips. I know their history. Often, Madge has a yellowed newspaper article for me to read. The shoebox she gently removes the carefully folded papers from is jam packed, so I know there is much more in there for me to enjoy.
My favorite Madge story took place last winter. A snowstorm was just beginning to get ugly, and I knew I had to get books over to her. Since Terri was working, I decided to rush over with the books around noon. As usual, I was ill-prepared for snow, and was wearing canvas tennis shoes. After slushing through heavy, wet snow, both here and at Madge's, my toes were icy. I needed to get home to change socks and put on appropriate footwear before toes began breaking off. Madge met me at the door saying, "Bev, could you take off your shoes, I just had the carpets shampooed." No problem. What didn't realize was that "just" meant exactly that - "just". I sat down at my usual spot in the dining room, and rested my feet on still very damp carpeting. Great. Madge took an extra long time getting her checkbook that day. My feet were freezing, my teeth were chattering, and I may have been cussing a little in my head. What the heck was taking her so doggone long? Madge was making me a hot dog, and a glass of lemonade for lunch. Frozen toes or not, how can you top that!
You know, there is never any desperation about Madge's invitations. Her whole self exudes the sheer joy of sharing. I don't kid myself into thinking that I am the only one who gets precious glimpses into her life. But even if there were no quarters, family photos, or hotdogs, those little visits with Madge are one of the many intrinsic rewards making bookselling such a great gig!