I used to work as a copywriter for the Sears Catalog, when there was such a thing. It was a lot of fun writing about things I knew nothing about such as tractors, lawn mowers, and faux Christmas trees. What does a Jewish girl from the northern suburbs of Chicago know from Post Hole Diggers, Augers, and Weedwackers? Well, actually, I know a lot now. I had to learn it from the buyers so I could adequately describe in the Catalog the benefits of the “Good”, “Better”, and “Best” ones to buy.
I also learned an important lesson about my grandmother while working there. It may seem to have nothing to do with this story, but trust me. It does. I dutifully called my Grandmother Esther almost every day from work. Yes, it was a personal call, but no one was going to be angry with me for calling my aging grandmother who lived for calls from her grandchildren. We all loved her and called her a lot.
One day when I called her, I wasn’t particularly in the mood to talk much because I was really busy trying to get a lawnmower layout to work. She asked me what I was doing and I thought to myself that she would never understand what I was working on. I causually told her I was just working on some copy for some lawn mowers. “Oh,” she said. “Do they have Briggs & Stratton engines?”
I almost dropped the phone. Of course she knew all about this kind of stuff. She was a “working woman” as women in her era were called in the 1940’s, and she happened to sell engines at one point in her career. And, as it turned out, I was working on a layout where we were selling lawn mowers with Briggs & Stratton engines.
But, back to the story. The copywriters from the Lawn and Garden department, of which I was one, were in yet another meeting (part of the reason I went freelance – I hated meetings. I just wanted to be left alone to write. In fact, I still do.) My friend Ann, with whom I had just had lunch, was sitting next to me and leaned over and whispered to me how much she admired Brenda’s brooch. She said that it was so unusual and that it looked like carved jade.
Brenda, another writer, was sitting across the conference table from us as we listened to a buyer drone on about his new line of wackers or blowers, or whatevers. We were all taking notes, but I wanted to get back to my lawn mower spread so I could get it turned in and start writing about the new wackers. I glanced at Brenda’s brooch and told Margret how much liked it, too. I whispered that it looked vintage and that maybe her grandmother had given it to her.
After the meeting was finally over, Ann and I walked over to tell Brenda how much we liked her brooch. But as we got closer and closer to her, we realized what we thought was a beautiful, unusual brooch was in fact a piece of Romaine lettuce clinging to her shirt. We were on our way to tell Brenda how much we liked her unique, possibly vintage brooch and had nowhere else to go because we were walking toward her, which was further away from the door.
We were trapped. It’s not like we could have changed our minds in mid- step when we realized we were about to compliment our co-worker, who was a notoriously sloppy eater; someone who should never eat a salad or pasta in public, on the produce sitting on her blouse. Ann later said to me, “She is the only person I have ever seen eat spaghetti and end up with it all over the BACKS of both hands.” So, we walked over and simply said “hello” and made up some lame comments about the new wackers and blowers.
Yes, we could have told Brenda that she was wearing her lunch. But we felt it would have been more embarrassing for her if we had told her after she had been sitting through an entire meeting wearing the “farm stand” brooch. After all, there were people sitting on either side of her who could have told her and didn’t. We actually thought it was a beautiful piece of jewelry, but anyone sitting next to her could clearly see it had been picked at the peak of its freshness.
To this day, even though Ann now lives in another state and we rarely get to see each other, we both still laugh uncontrollably when we e mail each other or speak to each other on the phone and remember that awkward moment when we realized Brenda’s brooch was in reality the remnants of her lunch.
So, just a reminder. Your grandmother may not have the vacuous mind you think she has, and your co-worker’s “jewelry” may turn out to be from the produce aisle at Jewel. Never underestimate or overestimate. You may find yourself digging yourself a hole with an Auger, or an even deeper hole with a Sears Craftsman Post Hole Digger.