This is an excerpt from my second book in progress. A version was published on the contributor blog of Minerva Rising in conjunction with their theme of “Mother”. Please visit Minerva Rising and support women’s literary voices.
I managed a ski shop awhile back. It was a fun, laid back, bro-talking industry – for a guy. But for a woman, it was an often sexist fight for recognition that wasn’t based on how tight my clothes were. Our mostly male customers seemed surprised I was knowledgeable about the product, or else they overlooked me completely, searching for a guy to help them. But I was used to it and I was tough; the “customer is always right” rule didn’t apply in a sport that could easily result in broken bones.
My son Eric was in charge of our rental shop. He moved away from home early and dropped out of high school. I worried about him. He was a gentle, artsy kid with a physical disability that left him limping and unable to ski anymore. I gave him a job so I could watch over him and because he was a hard worker who was hard to rile. The busy rental shop was a good place for him.
No one would have known he wasn’t just another one of the shop boys – except that he refused to call me anything but Mom. He said I’d earned it and he wasn’t giving it up, even at work. It wasn’t long before all the boys switched to calling me Mom. It was a title that carried more authority with them than “boss”, and they treated me with the respect and love the title merited.
Real skiing ends in the Pacific Northwest around the end of March, and we closed up shop in early May. Summers were spent tuning gear and calling customers who were a month or more late returning their rentals. One sunny June day I looked up from counting a large pile of ski boots to see an SUV worth more than double my yearly income pulling into the lot. The driver didn’t seem to notice the large “closed for the season” sign in the front window. From the angry slam of the car door, I was guessing this guy had just gotten my third phone message saying I was charging in full instead of the $25 late fee if I didn’t get the equipment that day.
Fumbling with an armload of skis, the man reached for the locked door, cursing as he pulled at the handle to no avail. Eric was already limping slowly to the door . He unlocked it with a smile that dissolved as soon as the man barked, “Why are you closed? I need to return my kid’s gear!”
The guy sounded like someone who was going to need the Manager, but I generally let the boys figure out how to deal with cranky customers as far as they could. They needed to gain confidence that they could handle aggressive people politely, and Eric was one of the best at it. Trying to placate the guy with cool bro’ ski shop attitude, Eric ignored the anger and replied in an easy tone, “Hey man! Bring your stuff in – we close up for the summer so we can tune for next year. You are lucky you caught us!” Despite Eric’s obvious limp, the man shoved his awkward load into Eric’s arms and turned to leave.
Eric’s voice remained cheerful, though strained, over the mess of poles stabbing at the air and the catawampus skis spilling from his hands.
“Okay, hang on. Let me get your paperwork and we can take care of the late fees at the register…”His voice trailed off as the man spun around, red-faced. Tearing off his sunglasses and throwing his keys on the floor, he leaned in, “I am not paying a goddamn late fee!”
Eric was silent as he shuffled to the counter and set the gear on the floor. The tightly clenched muscles in his jaw betrayed his annoyance as he searched through the paperwork slowly. This wasn’t a new scenario, and when he replied, his voice had lost its friendly banter. He placed the paperwork before the man. “Sir, you have signed this form in three places stating that you understood when the items were due AND that there would be a $25 late fee assessed after a two-week grace period. We sent you an email and called twice. We have your credit card number on file and can charge the fee to that. But, it can easily be waived if you prepay for next year.” Eric smiled without warmth, bracing himself against the counter for what experience had proved would come next.
The man reached across the counter, crumpled the paperwork and threw it at my son. I jumped up, ready to intervene, but Eric’s eyes hadn’t yet flicked towards me asking for help.
The man shouted,“I ain’t payin’ no goddamn late fee! You can stick your paperwork up your ass! Who do you think you are you little shit, tellin’ me what I have to do? If you charge me, you are gonna hear from my lawyer! Where’s your manager? I want to talk to the goddamn manager!” He slammed his fist on the counter.
I was steps behind him. Angry customers were one thing, but abusing any of my staff was completely unacceptable. Eric’s eyes caught mine over the man’s shoulders, and he smiled.
Eric looked the man in the eye while he said, “MOM, this man asked to see you.”
At the word “Mom”, the man’s back when rigid. He turned around slowly to face me – a small, young-looking woman with her arms crossed against her chest. “Is there a problem, Sir?” I drawled coolly, knowing the man’s bluster was gone now that he was worried he’d pissed off some kid’s mother.
Sure enough, he wiped the spittle off his lips and picked his keys up off ground. “Sorry ma’am. I guess you have a card on file? I’ll be going now.” He skittered out the door, throwing himself into the safety of his SUV and drove off.
Being “Manager” is one thing, but nothing beats the power of Mom.
(Taken from Minerva Rising Contributor’s blog: “Not Just a Title” by Robyn Lynn)