Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lunch Counter Lady: I Want To Be Her

(Alternately titled: "What Kind of Person Are You When Your Underpants Fall Apart?")

This is sort of an embarassing story but I'm going to tell it anyway because it has an important element in it. The older I get the details tend to get a little hazy, so I will tell it the best way I can remember it.

When I was a little girl of about 4, I had a babysitter for a while that was probably not the most responsible babysitter in the world. She liked to take me places and sort of show me off, for some strange reason. There were the trips to the local park where all her pot-head, daisy-chain-making friends were hanging out. There was the trip to her boyfriend's house where the genius boyfriend decided to take me on a trip on his motorcycle. The trip ended before it started when I burned my leg on the hot tailpipe, and started screaming like crazy. The genius boyfriend's genius mother decided to put cold butter on my burn. It didn't help, and I have no idea what fancy story the babysitter came up with to tell my mom, but I'm sure it wasn't the truth. Then there was the trip to the lunch counter downtown, when she insisted I wear a dress and let her do my hair in pigtails.

The hairdo wasn't such a big deal, but the wearing of the dress was. For reasons that escape me at 45, the logic I tried to explain at 4 went something like this: I can't wear this dress because my underpants are loose and they might fall down. I have no idea why I didn't just change my drawers, or if the babysitter didn't understand me, or how that all really came down. I just know that I didn't want to wear that dress, and she made me wear it anyway.

So there we are at the lunch counter (I think it was the one at Woolworths - something that has gone by the wayside in our modern world), and sure enough my worst 4 yr old fears came to life. I stood up, took a step and suddenly my drawers were around my ankles. I froze, too embarassed to move, and started to cry. It was lunch time so the place was quite busy with grown ups... who all seemed to turn and look at me at the same time. Looking at me wasn't the worst part. The laughing was. It seemed like the laughing just got louder and louder, as I stood there with my eyes closed, crying, wishing I could suddenly disappear into a magic bubble like Glenda the Good Witch, in the Wizard of Oz.

I have no idea where my brilliant babysitter was, but it was the nice, older, non-laughing lady with the giant red hairdo from behind the lunch counter that came over and picked me up. She said something very stern to the grown ups (I don't recall what it was, but they all seemed to quiet down right quick) and she said to me "come on honey, let's go get you fixed up". She didn't laugh at me, she rescued me and took me into a back room that had all sorts of boxes and shelves. Just like magic, she pulled a brand new package of girls underpants out of a box, took a pair out and handed them to me and pointed me to the bathroom where I was told to go change. Which I promptly did.

What was clearly a very humiliating experience for a little 4 year old girl, also had a most profound blessing tucked inside. The lunch counter lady who scooped me up and took care of me left an impression on my mind that to this day, makes me smile when I think of her. From an adult's perspective, I'm sure it was rather comical indeed to see a little kid standing there with her drawers around her shoes. Yet she never laughed along with the rest of the folks. She saw that I needed someone to help me and she stepped up to be that person. Somehow I just knew she was a mom, and she was the closest thing to having my own mom there. She comforted me, calmed me down and then chastised the crowd and quieted them down as well. She was a real life example of class and dignity, even though I was too little to realize what those things were at the time.

I never saw that lady again, but I've thought about her often over the years. If I could, I'd thank her for making such a wonderful impact on a helpless little kid, and let her know that I always thought "when I grow up, that's the kind of lady I want to be." I've been blessed to have several women in my life over the years that are those kinds of examples (including my own mom).

I'm still aiming for that goal, every day.

(In case anyone wondered, the babysitter was soon fired, and all my little-hippie adventures ceased before I ever started kindergarten.)

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