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PattersonsSometimes, the history that captivates us most isn’t the one that has shaped who we are but instead is the one that has shaped others.

I didn’t grow up in the town where I now live, and no significant life events have occurred here (yet). Despite that, I can’t shake the nostalgia that often hits me at the oddest times.

Take, for example, my daily mail run during the work week.

My office is located two blocks from Patterson’s Pharmacy, where a mailbox sits just outside of the picture windows.

Almost every day, when I am dropping off the office mail, I glance in at the patrons sitting at the old-fashion soda fountain.

For the most  part, these individuals are, at a minimum, a couple of decades older than I am. Most are at least 30 years older.

Sometimes they wave at me, but often they don’t because they are too engrossed in conversation. Despite their general camaraderie, there is always at least one person who hides behind the daily newspaper, with his head stuck in so far that I’m not sure he’s reading or using the paper as a shelter from the outside world.

I’ve never noticed what or whether people are eating or drinking, but my guess is they are generally sipping cups of coffee rather than the homemade milkshakes, malts and sodas that interest the younger generation. These are the  treats that my children and friends enjoy despite, or maybe because of, the old-fashion counter, historic photos and the general slow pace of the place.

Last Friday, my daughter and her friend asked me to take them to Patterson’s. We took our seats on the soda fountain stools, even though no one was behind counter.

The old woman next to me in the knitted cap didn’t say anything. The two elderly gentleman on the stools at the end of the counter were quiet for about five minutes until I asked the girls if they were willing to wait or wanted to go elsewhere.

“She’s at the bank to get some cash,” the one man told me. “She’ll be back soon.”

No one said who “she” was.  Everyone knew it was Ginny, whom I also see daily and has worked at Patterson’s since I moved to town.

No one seemed concern about Ginny’s absence. That’s the slow pace of business at a place like Patterson’s.

No one is worried about following the rules of corporate America in which money is often more important than people. Patterson’s is a local business in a small town. It caters to older people as well as 13 year-old girls who want a genuine root beer float and are more than willing to spend time chatting with each other at a old-fashion soda fountain rather than demand that their drinks are available immediately

At Patterson’s, people are important.

I know this because they are one of very few pharmacies that provide services to the people whom Catholic Charities, where I work, helps. These are people who often can’t even afford the $1.00 co-pay needed for a prescription. But Patterson’s works with  us to ensure that people who need help get help.

And sometimes that help doesn’t come in a bottle but instead comes in the form of a safe place.

Last Friday, as my daughter, her friend and I waited for Ginny, the old woman in the knit cap on the stool next to me finally began talking.pattersons2

“How old are your girls?” she asked me.

“Thirteen,” I said.

“Thirteen? They are awful big for 13!”

I looked at my daughter and her friend. Neither was wearing makeup and both were wearing t-shirts and Converse tennis shoes. To me, they looked exactly 13.

“In my day, kids were a lot smaller,” she said.

“When was that?” I asked.

“Back in the 1950’s,” she said, “I had kids in the 1950’s when Martinsburg was still Martinsburg.”

“Hmmm,” I responded. Ginny was back, and I ordered the root beer floats.

“I grew up here,” the woman in the knit cap said, “but you wouldn’t know it. I don’t know anyone here now. I don’t even know what happened to the bars. Back in my day, there were bars here but there wasn’t the traffic we have today. There’s too much traffic now.”

“Hmmm,” I said as Ginny filled glasses with root beer and added a scoops of ice cream.

“What is that?” the woman asked looking at a glass with a bit of suspicion.

“A root beer float,” I answered.

“I can’t drink that anymore,” the woman said. “It does something to my stomach.”

“Hmmm,” I said.

“I don’t like this town anymore,” the woman in the knit cap said. “It’s full of people I don’t know doing things they shouldn’t do.”

She shrugged then looked at my daughter and her friend.

“What are they drinking?” she asked.

“Root beer floats,” I answered.

“I can’t drink those anymore,” the woman said again. “It does something to my stomach.”

And so are conversation went. She asked me the same questions and when I answered, she gave me the same responses and the same complaints.

When the root beer floats were gone and the girls were ready to go, the woman said goodbye then struck up a conversation with Ginny behind the counter.

“How are you feeling today, Shirley?” Ginny asked.

“Not good,” said Shirley. “I don’t know anyone in this town anymore.”

“But they know you,” I thought as my daughter and her friend smiled at her and said goodbye as we walked out the door.

“Sometimes, the history that captivates us most  isn’t the one that has shaped who we are,” I thought. “Instead is the one that has shaped and is shaping others. And sometimes there is noting more magical than watching it shape very different generations at the same time.”

Picking My Battles Part 2: Validation, Lessons Learned and Being a Role Model

how you teachYesterday evening, I walked my dog through a section of the public park near my house. Children screamed with joy as they chased each other and played on playground equipment. Youth shot basketballs as parents watched from benches, and individuals waded in the creek. A young man with an accent rested his bike against the pavilion and joked with me about my dog.

And I smiled.

Had I not followed my gut and taken a risk of making a lot of people mad at me, none of those individuals would have had the opportunity to enjoy their evening in the same way. They would have been prevented from entering that part of the park by caution tape and overly eager volunteers.

But because I instinctively knew that no one had a right to prevent the public from enjoying that space, these people enjoyed a beautiful Friday evening.

But they didn’t enjoy it without a price – a price I paid.

There’s no need to recap my story of the Boy Scouts telling me I couldn’t walk in a public park since I’ve already written about that (see blog here). But if anyone is interested in the epilogue to the story, here’s a condensed version:

After being told by a staff person with our local parks and recreation office that the Boy Scouts had not received permission to section off and prevent others from entering that area of the park, I once again attempted to take my dog for his usual evening walk. And I was once again confronted and told I wasn’t allowed. After basically being accused of being a liar, I walked through the marked off section of the park anyway. And (shocker), I didn’t bother anyone or provoke any tragedy. In fact, the only tragedy that occurred that evening was all of the people who were once again chased away.

I later ran into the director of Parks and Recreation who apologized and reinforced that the group had not been given permission to close off that section of the park. In fact, groups were never allowed to be close that section of the park. In other words, my instincts were correct, and my resistance was justified.

When I told the director that the caution tape was still up and that bright orange signs proclaiming the area to be off-limits had been added, he promised he would address the issue with the group.

Unfortunately, the whole situation was a result of miscommunication. The local parks and recreation office had booked the Boy Scouts for the wrong park, and, because of that, the Boy Scouts really did think they had permission to seize control of that area of the park.

But, despite that, I have to question where the common sense was in this whole situation. Why would anyone think that particular section of the park was appropriate for an event that the organizers believed required a great deal of security? And why hadn’t other people who had been chased off spoken up? (I’ve since heard from plenty of other people who were angry but didn’t question anyone.)

If I hadn’t asked the tough questions and pursued the matter, the people I saw enjoying the park last night wouldn’t have been enjoying it.

The situation is resolved, and I finally received an email from the Boy Scout executive with whom I had been trying to communicate. He didn’t apologize but neither was he rude, and since I was becoming increasingly rude with the group, he deserves credit for that. He did emphasise that safety of their scouts was a top priority.

I understand that. Over the years, I’ve had responsibility for thousands of young people. I just didn’t bully others to ensure their safety.

Which goes back to my question about why a group so concerned about the safety of young people would hold an event in such a well-used and public section of the park.

I, and many others, use that part of the park as a point of entry, and hundreds of others enjoy it every day.  It is also the only area that provides access to a public stream (although the stream wasn’t roped off by the Boy Scouts, and people could still use it if they walked around the park to get to it.)

The bottom line is, if security were such a concern at the park, the Boy Scouts should not have chosen that particular location for the event unless they had another purpose, such as training volunteers to be guard dogs. The only other obvious benefit was the visibility of their recruitment signs.

But, regardless, the whole situation is now behind all of us, and the boys who were participating in the event weren’t hurt or prevented from enjoying their activities. In fact, as I walked my dog by (not through) their new and much more appropriate spot in the park last night, I was stopped by one young camper. (Just for clarification, he was outside the roped off area.)

“Is that your dog?” he asked. “He’s really big.”

“He is,” I said. “He also gets really excited so you don’t want to get too close because he jumps.”

“O.K.” the boy said, and then he changed subjects. “Hey, do you know what I’m doing here?”

“No,” I responded. “What are you doing?”

“I’m at Twilight Camp. And the Webelos get to spend the night.”

“That’s awesome,” I replied as the woman with the boy looked at me skeptically, as though I were lying and really didn’t want the boy to have fun.

‘Yeah,” the boy said. “It is awesome.”

“Well, have fun and be safe,” I said.

“I will,” he responded, then he and the woman in the orange vest walked away. But I was fortunate to hear the rest of the conversation.

“Do you want to know who that was?” the boy asked.

“Yes, I do,” the woman in the orange vest responded.

“That,” he said with obvious pride, “Was my Sunday school teacher.”

And I couldn’t help but smile. In the same week I had been labeled a security risk, a young boy was proud that I was his Sunday School teacher.

And that made all the trouble of the week completely disappear. It also reminded me that I am a role model, and sometimes being a role model doesn’t mean succumbing to the pressure or demands of others. It also doesn’t mean I have to be perfect or always use the exact right words.

Sometimes it simply means following my heart and doing what I know is for the greater good, even when people get angry with me or question my methods.

In the end, the smile and respect of a child is simply worth it.