I first knew of Alistair Cooke through television. He was the host of “Masterpiece Theater.” Our family would watch the show together. One night mom casually mentioned that Mr. Cooke was a client at her store. How had she kept it to herself all this time?
Mr. Cooke had started coming into the shop a number of years before the series, “Upstairs, Downstairs” was broadcast. A talented journalist, he lived in New York and was attracted by the display in mom’s window. There were several friends for whom he wanted to purchase Christmas gifts.
It was Christmas Eve.
Mom told us that he was a charming and delightful man, very simple and down-to-earth.
The first year Mr. Cooke came into the store he selected a few items and asked, “Would it be possible to get these delivered?”
Mom said, “Of course. I’d be happy to do that for you.”
“Well that’s the way it used to be done in England,” Mr. Cooke said. And then he smiled.
The next year Mr. Cooke returned on Christmas Eve to purchase gifts for even more of his friends. And the next year the list grew yet larger. There were now twenty people on his Christmas list.
By now mom had a good idea of what his friends liked and, anticipating his annual visit, had put certain items aside to show him in order to make his purchasing decisions easier. He appreciated that.
During that visit, Mr. Cooke asked if mother had any tea in the store. Mom enjoyed a good cup of tea and normally had loose Earl Grey, Jasmine, English Breakfast and Russian Caravan in the shop. She offered to make Mr. Cooke a cup.
Much to her surprise he said, “Oh, don’t bother. I would be happy to make it myself. Just show me where everything is. I can do that while you start wrapping the first five presents. Then after we have had a cup, we can get back to business.”
The next Christmas Eve, Mr. Cooke arrived as usual. However, he had brought a little shopping bag with him. He walked into the back and started heating the water in the kettle. Then he came out to the front of the store.
He started selecting between the items mom had set aside for him until he heard the kettle whistle. He returned to the rear of the store and began brewing the tea.
Another customer came in and mom asked if she needed any assistance. This lady said that she would like to look around for a bit.
When Mr. Cooke re-emerged from the back he held two tea cups and saucers in his hands – one for himself and one for mom. He had donned the apron which he had brought in his shopping bag and to all appearances might have been one of the domestic help in “Upstairs, Downstairs.”
The lady who had come in to the store said, “Oh, would I be able to get a cup of tea?”
Mr. Cooke said, “Of course, madam. Today we have Russian Caravan. Would that be acceptable?”
“That would be wonderful,” she responded.
So Mr. Cooke went to the back of the store and returned with a cup of tea for this lady.
Perhaps as a result of the warm atmosphere he helped to create this new customer made a very large purchase.
There are people who think they are important. And there are people who are important. Those in the latter group are genuine, simple and caring and Mr. Cooke was one of those.
Mom always looked forward to spending part of her Christmas Eve with him in her little shop.