In almost two decades of working various ends of retail and service, there were few employees quite like the grizzled warrior we’ll call Granny. This story is almost ten years old, but my Facebook feed reminded me of this lady so I had to share.
At a popular fast food restaurant where I had worked in various positions over a four year period with the promise of becoming management (a promise that was never fulfilled), a lot of people came and went. Granny was not one to be forgotten. She was in her 70’s, and the sinew and grizzle that made up her body couldn’t have put her at more than five feet tall. She was hired for about 6 hours a day, four days a week, to essentially work in the back as a baker and dishwasher. She probably spent three of those hours each day smoking. She hated the people she worked with almost as much as she hated the customers that bothered her while she was smoking. It was hard to say why she stuck around for about the eight or so months she did; some might say keeping her on was a charity case. Others might point out that our turnover was high and a lot of the employees that worked mornings did not want to be stuck doing the prep work and dishes she did.
I am not kidding when I say you did not interrupt her when she was smoking. One particularly cold morning when the morning rush was more than a skeleton crew could handle, she made the decision to slip out between oven timers to smoke. A parked drive-thru customer was marching in from waiting for what they claimed was forever but was probably closer to five or ten minutes, and made the mistake of taking their anger and frustration out on her. I was running food out for another vehicle when I got to witness the exchange, which was to say the least heated.
The customer was a man about as old as I am now (mid thirties) angrily demanding to know why it was taking so long for his food and why she was smoking. Granny’s response, dead pan, was that this customer should mind his own business. (!!!) The customer wanted to go for broke on this old lady, instead of the usual standby of wanting to talk to a manager (which is always the fan favorite.) I remember him vividly screaming “It’s bullshit I have to be late for work because you people can’t get food out on time. But I guess that’s why you are making the fucking big bucks, isn’t it?” And this old lady responds, practically spitting venom like a Dilophosaurus, “Didn’t your mother teach you not to swear in public? She must be ashamed.” In a perfect world this man would have seen the error of his ways and crawled back to the car he came from and waited for his food like an adult (before calling the 1 800 number and complaining to get free food, because you know, customers). Instead he wanted to escalate things, and he actually tried getting in my way as I came back from handing out the food I originally was outside for. A manager had to get off the cook line to apologize profusely and attempt to smooth things over. Granny was scolded (not that it did any good, she gave zero fucks) but did not lose her job.
Granny and I got along because while she hated everybody, I was a professional who on the surface loved everyone because that’s just what good customer service is (TM). So I went out of my way to help her out when I could, lifting things, getting materials from the shelves she couldn’t have reached if there was another one of her stacked on top of her, etc. So after a few months she got as warm to me as she would anyone, which was to say she felt comfortable enough to talk to me on some of her many smoke breaks. Most of what she had to say was how lazy everyone around her was, how nobody knew how to do anything, how she had to do all this extra work… you know, the short lady who I was constantly helping out. But I also learned a little about her: she used to work for what was once a huge retailer, starting in a warehouse and actually finding herself at an office job with benefits. She has one son, whom she claimed disowned her. She didn’t like animals because “they make messes everywhere.” She hated asking for help, even as she clearly needed it. And one day, she was going to win the lottery, tell this place we were working at to go exploit themselves, and travel the world. Two things this woman would not give up – smoking, and playing the lottery. She has “a system” that “will pay off someday.” In the time I knew her, it never did.
Granny may have been more than a liability for the company, but she had a strange way of being thoughtful too. For Christmas, she decided to show her appreciation to some of us by purchasing us lottery tickets. Not everyone, just like three or four of us. Of course, she made sure we knew that “when” we won, we would have to share half the winnings with her. For better or for worse, none of us did.
She was kept in the back, and not allowed to deal with customers. This was because she had the disposition of a demonetized alt-right pundit. I remember one day she was “helping out” washing tables. This is in quotations because it was, to the letter of the job description, her job to do this… but usually she didn’t. A family was leaving, and decided for some reason not to take their tray of trash and cups with them – just left them on the table. There were complaints by other customers who heard her loudly complaining about how “in my day we would have spanked the laziness out of those kids” and “no one has respect any more.” At the time I really just felt she should shut up and clean the tables, but especially as time has gone on I got it and I got her frustration. But she made the cardinal sin of letting the customers hear her…
Sadly, Granny is no longer with us. I don’t want to get into the specifics too much, but she needed medical care. This taught me two things. One, this old lady who seemed to only tolerate me for banter while smoking and to do her bitch work apparently trusted me enough to list me as someone to speak to from Family Services. Second, I discovered she was actually an illegal immigrant (from Canada, of all places!) working on a work visa that had expired some ten years prior. Family Services had reached out to me in part because she had been given them my name, and in part because no one knew who else to contact.
One day after work me and a few coworkers helped pack her things. She was incredibly ungrateful, as she often was, about how lazy we were and about how we better not steal or break anything. She did offer us cigarettes though, so she must have appreciated us in some way. Arrangements were made for her to be moved to a nursing home just across the border. I learned from management that she apparently passed away not even a week after moving, and that the very son that was unreachable to help her move was asking questions about her storage shed so that he could grab her things, and contested the sale of one of her vehicles. Pretty depressing.
Today, I’ve got a reminder of her on my Facebook wall. A picture of her was taken at work for a holiday thing, and after she left I made a digital copy. Hopefully, she’s in a heaven or a reincarnated life where she has already won the lottery, and no one is interrupting her smoke breaks. Also, it makes me sad, because over ten years later, I feel like I’m falling into that same trap she was, where the only way I’m going to reach my goals and enjoy life as I was meant to is if I win the lottery. At the time, I felt it was silly she would expect to have a chance at winning; now I recognize the desperation behind the belief.