My husband’s cousin, Sandra, works at K-Mart as a cashier. In the last twenty years of his life Arthur talked to her once or twice a week—they were as close as brother and sister during a good part of their lives. Sandra has told me many times since Arthur died how much he helped her bear the burden of her job.
Sandra had a thirty-year career as a telephone operator. She retired early when the job ceased to exist in the late 1990s. The telephone company offered her the choice of a one-time payout of the money she’d accrued in the pension fund or a monthly check. She thought she could have a comfortable retirement by investing the money so she took the payout. This looked like a good plan in the early 2000s, but after the crash of 2008, when she lost a huge part of her savings, she took the job at K-Mart to supplement her income. She thought it would be temporary, and now, seven years later when she’s nearing 70, she’s tired. And stuck. She can’t do without the pitiful sum she makes working part-time at K-Mart.
Last night after spending Thanksgiving with some friends I came home to a phone message from Sandra wishing me Happy Thanksgiving. This was my first Thanksgiving since Arthur died and she wanted to make sure I was okay.
Sandra mentioned she would be starting work the next morning at 6am and I realized I had not given a second’s thought to Sandra’s reality this week. Not only would she be working Black Friday as usual, she had worked Thanksgiving morning also.
Arthur was always there for her on these hard days. He’d call her up and get her laughing, telling jokes and distracting her with memories of their youth; He’d help her see the absurdity of the human race as reflected in the people that paraded through her check-out lane. They’d laugh at some crazy customer or two or three she’d encountered that day, helping her drain some of the stress and frustration and depression away.
I thought all this as I listened to Sandra’s message, and made myself a note to call her Friday afternoon.