Last time I wrote about a customer of mine who is always filled with the joy of living; someone to whom I could only hope to aspire. I don’t know exactly why I am in such a sentimentally delicate mood these days (I have my hunches), but I’d like to talk a little bit about another customer of mine, who I will call Mr. Burgess.
Mr. Burgess is one of our “regulars”, term which here means “about once a week, if not more”. He likes to read your typical “guy” novels. Your W.E.B. Griffins, your Stephen Coontses, your Vince Flynns, and of course your David Baldaccis. He particularly likes stories that take place in WWII and involve the navy. (Like Mr. F, he served in the war, but in the navy, not the air-force). We will actually “set aside” books that come in for Mr. Burgess if they look like ones that he might enjoy. We only do this for our very preferred customers, and it’s not an advertised service. Just one of those intangible perks that comes with being a genuinely kind and lovely man. A gentle man.
Unlike Mr. F who carries himself with a bit of swagger and bombast (does this come with air force training?), Mr. Burgess is always quiet, soft-spoken, almost reverential when he approaches the desk. He is the type of man who I feel I need to address as “Mister”, and he is the type of man who says “Mr. Burgess was my father, call me Doug”, and I can’t. I really can’t. It seems so flippant for me to talk to this man as an equal, as a bud.
So I don’t.
I don’t call him anything. I just smile when he comes in and say something like, “Hey! Great to see you! How was that last Robert Harris? I think I have something for you here in the office…” He never expects anything, which is why we go to such lengths to make sure there is something always there for him.
At regular intervals, he brings in a HUGE bag of candy for the staff. He always casually hands it over to us at the information desk, as if he’s up to no good. With a conspiratorial grin, he says, “make sure the redheaded girl gets some of the gold ones. She tells me they are her favourite.” Actually the gold ones are everyone’s favourite. They are little peanut butter cups, individually wrapped in foil. He always gets half gold and half red. The red ones are filled with caramel, but the caramel is so sweet, they often are eaten last. One of the staff has joked with me on more than one occasion that we should tell him to bring in “double gold”, but I never would do that. The red foil ones do get eaten eventually, and I wouldn’t want to take for granted Mr Burgess’s (sorry: Doug’s, no, can’t do it: Mr. Burgess’s) treats. One time a staff person was in the bulk barn and saw the red and gold candies in a bin. She did a quick estimate, and reckoned that each time he spends between $20-$30 on us. Unreal.
Shortly after our daughter was born, we got a lot of comments and a ton of advice. Most of it was well-meaning, but some of the comments were of the “Well, you can kiss your social life goodbye” or “You won’t have any money to do anything fun!” variety. Typical asshole kind of stuff, but it was that stuff that I tended to internalize, my personality being of the type that it is.
But I’ll never forget what Mr. Burgess said to me.
When I told him the news, his eyes lit up and his voice, (you have to imagine his voice, it’s low and smooth, like honey, even after a lifetime of smoking, or maybe because of it), his voice came out and he just said. “Oh, you’re going to have a such a good experience ahead of you.” I really needed to hear that, at that very moment.
As it turned out, he and his wife, Beatrice, had one daughter, and when she grew up and had a daughter of her own, Mr. and Mrs. Burgess looked after that grand-daughter while their daughter returned to work full-time, so the memories of it were still quite fresh for him.
Ever since that day, in addition to talking about his reading needs, he always asks, “How’s the little one?” and I always have a new picture on my iPod ready for him. He’s always so complimentary, “She’s so beautiful. You’re doing such a great job.” I mean, how does he know? The beautiful thing, sure. She is beautiful, obviously, but I think the “good job” thing is a little bit of conjecture, but I’ll take it. I’ll take all the positive reinforcement I can get, actually, if you want the truth.
One day, my wife and daughter were visiting the branch when Mr. Burgess was in, and I was so delighted to be able to have him meet her in person.
“Audrey, this is Mr. Burg..um I mean Doug. He’s one of my favourite customers and he is always asking about you!”
“Hi! Me Audrey.”
“Hi Audrey, do you have a middle name?”
Reader, our daughter’s middle name is NOT Sally, but what can you do? She was 2 at the time.
Mr. Burgess turned to me and said, “You have a very smart little girl!”
I hadn’t seen Mr. Burgess for a few weeks, but a couple of days ago his wife, Beatrice was in. She came to the desk, “which one of you is Trevor. You all have BEARDS!” I recognized her right away and asked if Mr. Burgess would like a book. “Oh, I’m afraid you won’t be seeing Doug for a while. They’re cleaning out his carotid arteries and um some other stuff and he’s in the hospital.”
“Oh! Well, tell him I say “Hi” and I hope to see him soon!” I tried to put a good face on it, and I could tell Beatrice was too, but she was looking upset and a little bit lost. They were of the generation where the husband did all the driving, and Mrs. Burgess was having a hard time going it alone.
“Oh, before I forget, he wanted me to pick up some of these for you.”
A bag of candy.
After she left, I looked up “cleaning out carotid arteries” online and I guess it’s sort of routine? But there are a lot of possible complications like strokes and bleeding and he is not young and I got a pit in my stomach and I felt like I had to write this down so you could hear about this wonderfully kind and softspoken gentleman who gave me a bit of advice when I was fragile and continues to coach me like a favourite uncle all under the auspicious of reader’s advisory.
I opened the bag of candy, and like my eyes suddenly, they were all red.