When I was fifteen years old, I started working at B. Dalton Bookseller at Town East Mall. I had worked at odd jobs up until then teaching toddlers to swim, teaching roller skating and being a teacher’s aide to three year olds at the daycare where my mom worked. That year my mom became very ill and was in and out of the hospital constantly. She knew that I wouldn’t be able to do the odd jobs without her being able to work, so she went with me to the mall and signed a waiver so that I could work. The manager liked me, but still thought I was too young. She didn’t want to hire me because I had just turned fifteen and because I had no experience. I took my art work with me. I showed her the tedious drawings, ink painting and watercolors I often worked on. She hired me that day saying, “Okay, if you have the discipline and patience to do this, then you can work.”
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I worked at the Town East Mall location for two years until I graduated. I won several awards and employee of the month working here. By the time I was eighteen I was the youngest manager in B. Dalton’s history and was co-manager of the store in the Galleria Mall. I also filled in for two other stores while other managers were on sick leave and maternity leave. Working at B. Dalton Bookseller changed my life. I met many authors and celebrities along the way. I worked for B. Dalton Bookseller for eight and a half years. The chain of stores eventually became Barnes and Noble. B. Dalton Bookseller has faded into the fabric of history.
In 1987, it was at the bookstore at the Galleria Mall that I met my friend John Rohde. I was working on the magazine rack taking out the old magazines and putting the new issues in their place. I had been struggling with a large display for Playboy when the whole thing collapsed on top of me and magazines spilled every which way, but mainly rained down on me in a tidal wave. Two hands reached in, grabbed my arms and pulled me out of the deluge. We both fell on the floor and watched as the whole upper half of the magazine display continued to fall all the way across. It was a big display and had glass across the front that also fell out.
“Are you okay?” he asked me.
“I think so,” I said. “Never had THAT happen before,” I stood up and began to dust myself off.
“I think you are going to go down in the history of my mind as the only woman I’ve ever met who was almost killed by Playboy,” he said with a serious look on his face. “My name is John,” he held out his hand for me to shake.
I looked at him and at the magazines and started to laugh, pretty soon we were both laughing so hard tears were running down our cheeks.
“Thank you, John, for saving me,” I said when I could speak again. “Your quick thinking really did keep me from getting hurt.”
“Would you like to get some tea with me, or eat lunch perhaps?” he said with a half bow. “I confess to being seventy nine years old, but I am not dead. I would like to enjoy the company of a fair lady for a few moments.”
“Wow,” I replied. “Chivalry is not dead and I would be delighted.” We both laughed again.
This was the start of a wonderful friendship. John was married to a lady named Marie and had a son named after him. He had not spoken to his son in over ten years. He would come up to the bookstore at least twice a week and we would eat lunch together. If the store was busy then he would help customers (he was an avid book reader and managed a B. Dalton Bookstore himself many years before). I learned so very much from John. Through his eyes I saw the world as it was in the 30,s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Through his eyes I saw the world change, riots, innocence lost, new music born, and the world change forever. I learned that he used to work at MGM Studio’s as a stage hand under such great performers as Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly.
One night when he was in his late teens he got caught practicing dance steps he’d seen Fred Astaire perform in front of a mirror. Fred walked in and waited until John finished, then clapped for him. John was so embarrassed that he wanted to crawl away. Fred told him not to quit his day job, with a smile on his face. Then he gave John free dance lessons every night until the musical he was working on (American in Paris) was completed. John learned all about the theatre and the politics that went along with it. The performers were protected at all costs in those days. Their reputations had to be spotless. He was invited to many of the private premier parties, sometimes as a waiter or a chauffeur. He didn’t care how he got to go, just that he got to go. He met many of the big stars and learned as much as he could about singing, acting and dancing. He was an extra in many of the films. He wrote a few plays that were later published and used on some of the small stages.
I so loved to listen to him for hours. Oh, we got the strange looks when we went places together, but we didn’t care. I met his wife and spent many dinners watching and listening to a completely happy and content couple. They were good for each other and obviously still loved each other very much. Their positive attitude and outlook was absolutely contagious. You could not be around them and walk away without a smile on your face.
I learned that John also got to work for Walt Disney. He met Walt on a few occasions and told me so many things about the man that I so looked up too. Walt Disney’s story was amazing and one I had read on many occasions. It was then that I introduced John to the new wave of musicals coming out. I bought him “Little Mermaid” and we spent several Saturdays watching it together. He was completely entranced with Ariel, the advances in animation and the story. He would tell me over and over that the REAL story of “The Little Mermaid” didn’t end happily. That it was actually a very tragic book, but Walt always thought that fairy tales should have happy endings, so he rewrote them to suit himself. I thought this was fascinating and wound up reading many of the fairytales, and then understood why Walt Disney felt the way he did.
When my daughter Casey was born, Marie made her a pink quilted, photo album. They thought Casey was the prettiest baby they had ever seen. I am not Catholic, but John and Marie were. I made them Casey’s Godparents. They bought Casey little outfits with Snoopy on them. I loved Snoopy too and they thought Snoopy fit her personality. Casey would clap her hands and throw out her arms yelling, “Noopy!” whenever John would give her a new Snoopy stuffed animal.
I deeply miss my friends John and Marie. They are no longer here to share my life. I am very thankful that I had twelve years to share with a couple of amazing people that changed, enriched, and greatly influenced my life forever. What a truly happy accident.
By now you are asking yourself why I am writing this. Here’s my point. So many times I go to the store or to the mall and I see the elderly being snubbed, ignored, and even mistreated. I’ve been to nursing homes where they are put in a room and simply forgotten, left to wonder if anyone will even speak to them today. Stop! These are people! They have lived and they have amazing stories to share if you will take the time to listen. So much of history is lost, simply passed by in the rush of everyday life. Take the time now to get to know the elderly around you, whether it is a family member, a neighbor, or the little old lady sitting alone every Sunday in the church pew. Take time, you will be so glad you did. Everyone has a story, life experiences to share and be passed on. The life you change will be your own. Teach your children to respect them and to listen.
I loved my friends John and Marie, they taught me about life, love and how important each and every person in your life is. Don’t miss the opportunity to find the treasure that lies within having an elderly friend.
Cherry Coley (c)