Out of the many tasks grandma undertook on behalf of our family, I know she loved cooking the most. But another job that she enjoyed was buying clothes for me. She was in charge of making selections for my wardrobe – and updating my school uniform as I outgrew those clothes was no exception.
The concept of a school uniform might seem strange or antiquated to you. When I see children going to the school just outside my little homeowners’ community, it’s apparent that there are no standards for attire. Sadly, this leads to unfortunate rivalry among children – who has the most expensive pair of athletic shoes – that sort of thing.
By contrast, children who are in their school’s uniform have none of that competitive consumerism. We all dressed and looked the same. The uniform engendered a sense of camaraderie – we all belonged to the same family. Instead of focusing on what we were wearing we could focus on what we were learning.
The components for my school uniform could only be obtained at one store – Rogers Peet. They and they alone had the required charcoal grey slacks that I would wear during the next school year.
Rogers Peet was an upscale clothier. They catered to an upper income clientele (we were not part of that group) – and to a number of New York’s private schools in providing the uniforms those school’s required their pupils to wear.
As there was already a little nip in the air and it was gusty that day, grandma put on her usual black cloth coat, having arranged her white hair with two bobby pins and her hair net. She grabbed her purse and we were off on the bus to get me attired.
As we walked in the store, it was painfully obvious to me that the sales staff looked at grandma and thought she must be “the help” for one of their wealthy clients. Although she asked several of the sales people for assistance, each of them was “busy.”
So unassisted we made our way to the pants department to begin looking at their selection. Grandma pulled out a pair of pants and held them to my waist to see how close a fit they would be. After a few tries we found the right size and waited patiently for one of the store’s sales people to assist us with our purchase.
Three more of the store’s employees came by but they too were “busy.” I couldn’t understand what all the sales people could be doing with so few customers in the store. But we waited patiently for someone to finish with their present customer so they could assist us. We waited over twenty minutes but no one came by.
Finally, grandma began removing stacks of pants from their rows on the shelves, piling them neatly on the floor. She was working on her fourth stack when a man came rushing towards us.
“Madam,” he said. “What are you doing?”
Grandma asked him who he was. He said he was the store manager.
She said, “We have been in your store for half an hour and none of your sales people would help us. But now that you’re here, you’ll do. I would like to purchase this pair of pants.”
By the look on his face, you might have thought that grandma had landed a strong left hook to this man’s midsection. But he wrote up our purchase and we left the store with my new pants which grandma would spend the afternoon altering at home.
I remember being embarrassed about this incident while we were in the store – embarrassed for my grandmother who was obviously snubbed by the store’s sales staff. And embarrassed for the sales people who made the assumption that this little lady who looked like “the help” couldn’t possibly afford to buy anything at their exclusive store.
Grandma was always considerate, kind and caring. But when she had to be – she could be one tough lady.