What do you usually say to folks you meet? Hello? Hi, how are you? Yo, Homey?
How we greet other people may depend, in part, upon the occasion. A smile with a warm “hello” at the grocery store to someone you’ve never before met can really make the day of one who was feeling pretty invisible up to that point. We never know what relationship may be forthcoming from a simple “how are you?” to a complete stranger. The first words spoken between two people can set the tone for an entire conversation, as well as begin cementing a critical partnership among co-workers or lay the foundation for cultivating the trust upon which solid relationships must be built. How we are greeted by others can truly make a lasting impression. Having grown up working with the public at my father’s drug store, my brothers and I had the lesson of how to greet others drilled into our constitutions pretty early. Make people feel welcome. Let them know they are appreciated; they can always choose to spend their money somewhere else. (That’s a lesson not being taught in far too many retail establishments as the sales associates — they aren’t clerks anymore — are more concerned with griping about how much they hate working in that place than they are with whether you decide to shop there again and contribute to their hourly wage.)
The folks frequenting City Pharmacy exhausted the spectrum of socio-economic levels, personality types, and degrees of education – we saw everything and everybody. While folks from all walks of life were pleasant, by and large, particularly for people who may be coming in with a handful of prescriptions to exchange for poultices, elixirs, and pills designed to cure their ills, some just dropped by the store to visit. Daddy loved people and would often stop to chat with visitors as much as to counsel someone about their medication. So it was not uncommon for people working in town to come to the store during their break to get a bottled Coca-Cola and a pack of peanuts, pour the peanuts in the Coke and chew the fat for awhile with Haase. A purveyor of jokes and stories, he was as well known for his entertainment value as his prowess behind the prescription counter. Between him and the drink machine, folks were bound to come to the drug store to spend a little time on their breaks.
You see, we had glass bottled drinks until Coca-Cola made us convert to cans in the 1990s. People working all over town would pass up their canned drink machines to come to the drug store for a bottled soft drink. You can’t pour peanuts into a can. Just doesn’t work. In fact, it’s downright un-American. The drink machine was our “hello” for some folks. Never sick, these friends came to the store for the familiar contour Coca-Cola bottles quickly going the way of soda fountains. The drink machine greeted them like an old friend, so they came to visit often.
Our drink machine had one friend whose morning greeting made an indelible impression. He was a quiet man, a farmer, I believe, who dressed in denim overalls every day of the year. In warmer months, he wore madras plaid or checked short sleeved cotton shirts. His winter attire would include a heavy denim jacket over his overalls and plaid flannel shirt. Always neat, Mr. Ralph had no idea he was a couple decades early on setting a fashion trend.
One could set their clock by Mr. Ralph. He would hit the front door at 9:15 every morning and head straight for the drink machine, drop in his quarter for a Pepsi, peel the metal cap into the receptacle, and stroll to the chairs in the back of the store. Nodding his greeting as he settled into a chair, he would spend the next quarter hour or so savoring every refreshing swig of that Pepsi. He never said “good morning”, “how are you”, “kiss my foot” — nothing. I’m sure I heard him speak from time-to-time, but it was not nearly so memorable as his non-verbal communication.
After a bit, he would finally open his mouth, emit a resonant belch that echoed through the store, rise to his feet and stroll out of the store leaving his bottle in the empty crate.
There has never been another “hello” that could touch his. Probably never will be.
Helen Person is a Winder resident and columnist for the Barrow Journal. You can reach her at email@example.com.