“Always smile back at little children. To ignore them is to destroy their belief that the world is good.” — Pam Brown
Not long ago, while getting groceries, there was a lady near me with a little girl who was about eight years old. When the child asked her mom for cookies, the mother shook the little girl by the shoulder and said, “You are not getting cookies young lady, you are already too fat!” Suddenly my thoughts flashed back to a childhood friend named Carol Ann Ferguson. She had a mother who always seemed angry and critical and would say things like “Carol Ann, stop that!” or “Carol Ann, sit up straight!”
One day when we were nine, Mrs. Ferguson took us to a large department store. A crowd was gathered in one part of the store, and we stopped to see what was going on. An old guy — who had to be at least 50 — was sitting on a raised platform giving a demonstration in wood carving. He rapidly carved tiny, movable pliers out of balsa wood and then gave them away to people in the crowd.
Determined to get one of those free pliers, I smiled my head off, while Carol Ann stood next to me impatiently bouncing from one foot to the other. I vaguely remember thinking she needed a restroom, but I also saw Mrs. Ferguson grip my friend’s shoulder so hard it caused Carol Ann to wince with pain. The man finished carving, then asked the people in the front to hand the pliers to the little redheaded girl with the big smile. As we walked away, studying the new treasure, Mrs. Ferguson said loudly to her daughter, “See Carol Ann, if you would learn to smile, something nice might happen to you, too!”
To this day, an angry face reminds me of Mrs. Ferguson. And since I’m on this subject, not long ago I pulled into the parking lot of a local grocery store and spent a moment looking around before getting out of my car. I couldn’t help but notice the man sitting in a nearby pickup truck. Maybe it’s the times we live in now, but I think it’s a good idea to pay attention to one’s surroundings instead of having your eyes glued to a cellphone. That man’s face was just about the angriest face I’ve seen in a long time.
Then I noticed a young woman pushing a loaded cart toward her car. It was raining, and after removing the groceries, she pushed the cart out of the way, making sure it wouldn’t roll into anyone else’s car. It was almost as if the man in the truck was waiting for someone to make a wrong move. The moment the woman took her hands off the cart, he jumped out of his truck, yelling at her like she had committed a felony. Then he took the cart and marched, in the rain, 50 feet away to slam it into an official parking place for carts. Obviously he didn’t write that old familiar song, “Let a smile be your umbrella on a rainy, rainy day.”
I sat in my car for a moment, thinking of people who smile and those who don’t and the difference such a simple thing as a smile can make in our lives. And I thought of Carol Ann.
Back in the days when I frequently visited my aging parents, I occasionally thanked them for how they raised their kids — with affection, encouragement, wisdom and so much love. Whenever this happened, they always looked a little bewildered. Then one day my mom said, “Well, how else is there to raise children?”
I’m still thinking about that little girl whose mother shook her because she asked for cookies. I wanted to walk over and give that child a hug, but I kept my distance. I did try to flash her a sympathetic smile, but I doubt she noticed because her eyes were full of tears.
I’m not sure what the message is today, but maybe it boils down to the difference we can make just by the way we treat people, be they big or small. By the way, I kept those little carved pliers in my jewelry box for a long time. Now I’m wondering if any readers remember when department stores did all sorts of oddball things to attract customers.
Bobbie Lippman is a professional writer who lives in Seal Rock with her cat, Purrfect. She is the author of “Good Grief: A Collection of Stories As One Woman Journeys From Heartbreak To Healing Through Honesty and Humor.” The book, with all proceeds going to Rotary International Foundation, is available on Amazon, at JC Market in Newport and directly from Bobbie, who can be contacted at [email protected]