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Ramblin’ Road: My retail adventure with Clay, age 5

by Phyllis McCrossin

I work at a clothing store in a tourist town. We sell T-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies and jackets with a variety of South Haven landmarks, plus some uniquely Michigan shirts. We also sell some men’s clothing and quite a bit of women’s clothing.

I guess my age has caught up to me, as five years ago when I worked at this store I would look at the women’s clothing we had for sale and say to myself, “Nope. No way. I would never wear something like that.” Now I look at the racks and think to myself, “Yeah, I could wear that.”

Right now the shop is not very busy. In a tourist town you bank on a good summer to help ease the lean times during the winter. While business is slowly picking up, it’s still slow. Today, for instance, we barely sold enough to cover the two hourly employees’ wages. I don’t care to think about what utilities, rent, etc., does to that bottom line.

The past few days the few customers we had were looking for that “special something” for mother’s day.

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of waiting on Clay and his grandmother, who were shopping for Clay’s mother.

Grandma did her best to keep Clay focused. She failed. But she tried.

“No Clay, we are not buying a T-shirt for you,” she said and Clay proceeded to pull a stack of toddler shirts from the table.

I assured Grandma I would re-fold the shirts after they were finished shopping, but this grandma was a lot like me. It went against her moral fiber to not re-fold the shirts.

“Clay lives in Galesburg,” Grandma explained to me. “They are doing virtual learning this week so that’s why he’s able to be with me.”

In my mind it didn’t exactly explain why Clay was obviously not virtual learning, but I smiled behind my mask and turned to Clay, “What grade are you in, Clay?”

“I’m in 4-year-olds, but I’m really five,” he said.

“You probably had a birthday after you started,” I suggested.

“I had cake.”

Clay picked out a coral colored T-shirt with the Great Lakes/Michigan embroidered where a pocket might be. While walking up to the counter he spotted the canister we have for donations to the local animal shelter.

“I want some money. May I have that?”

“No Clay,” said Grandma. “That’s for the animals that don’t have homes.”

“Why don’t they have a home,” asked a confused Clay.

“That’s a really good question, Clay,” I said.

“How did you know my name?”

“I’ve heard your Grandma say it a few (hundred) times today.”

The donation money was forgotten as Clay marveled at the fact that I knew his name.

Then he discovered the gift boxes and wrapping paper behind the counter.

“I want to help wrap,” he exclaimed.

For the record, I am not fond of wrapping, especially when the customer is watching me do it. But I told Clay he could help me. I’m even less fond of wrapping with the help of an eager 5-year-old.

Thank goodness a mask hides grimaces.

Clay helped me choose the wrapping paper; he helped me choose the box. He helped me get out 12 or 20 sheets of tissue paper to pad the box. And then he discovered the tape dispenser. It’s been two days since Clay helped me wrap his mother’s gift and I’m still fining wads of tape stuck to parts of the counter.

Grandma wandered off to look at some women’s clothing.

“I can’t get this tape off my fingers,” Clay announced. “Can you help me?”

Clay had managed to triple wrap tape around his middle and index fingers, which were turning purple. I managed to find an end and get it off without resorting to using scissors as I didn’t think Clay could hold still for scissors.

The box was finally wrapped and Grandma found another shirt for her daughter — a tank top with a sequined cowboy boot on the front. We had received it as a sample in a clothing order. It sat in our back room for a while until it finally found its way to our sale rack

I resolutely started wrapping another box, but Clay had lost interest in wrapping and discovered the mints next to the cash register — fifty cents for a roll of mints, with proceeds going to the local Lions Club.

“I want those.”

“I don’t think you’ll like them Clay. They are pretty strong,” Grandma said.

But by that point Clay had the wrapper off and had stuck one in his mouth.

“Oh Clay. I don’t have 50 cents.”

“Hot,” said Clay.

Grandma was almost in tears.

“I have 50 cents,” I said. I actually didn’t, but I have a coffee can with laundry money at home, so I put the money in the next day.

“Are you mad at me Grandma?”

“Grandmas don’t get mad, Clay. They get tired. But they don’t get mad,” I assured him.

“How do you know?”

“I’m a grandma too, Clay.”

Clay marveled at the fact that there were more grandmas in the world than just his.

Clay’s grandma winked at me. She gave Clay both packages to carry and they walked out the door.

“Come back to see me soon, Clay,” I called.

I truly hope he does. He’s quite the distraction.

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