Old-School Cool

This is something I wrote a couple of weeks ago in the days leading up to Christmas.


I don’t usually work closing shifts, but that’s where I found myself this evening.

Considering kids are out of school on break, Christmas shopping is at its peak, Star Wars opens this weekend (and the theater is just two blocks away) and it’s a Friday night to boot, things were pretty hectic. I spent a good portion of my night grumbling under my breath about the stupid things the hordes of teens and (ugh) “PRE-teens” were doing in the store.

At one point, a pack of 12-year-old girls could be heard cackling, tee-heeing and saying things like, “OH-EM-GEE, like, I am SO obsessed with Star Wars!” and, “I love Harpoon-D2!” (HARPOON-D2?!?!?!) with the thickest of “Valley Girl” accents.

Later, three “skaters” were meandering through the aisles with their skateboards and acting like they were a bunch of rebels who were just way too cool for school. Yup, nothing says “edgy” like spending your Friday night in a bookstore while waiting for your parents to pick you up. Whoa. Watch out. These are some bad dudes.

Anyway, the highlight of my night (and I mean that sincerely) was when I rang up an older gentleman who told me he was about to turn 83. He spoke with an accent that almost sounded Eastern European, like Polish or something, and said he and his wife were from Connecticut, but moved down about three years ago and that she’d just beaten cancer.

He said he used drive a van for his church, taking elderly people to their doctors’ appointments and such, but he and his wife had decided to move to be closer to their children and TWENTY TWO GRANDCHILDREN.

He wore a short, trim, well-kept Johnny Unitas-style flattop; a tan/khaki, half-zipped Members Only jacket; thin, black-rim glasses (the opposite of Harry Caray’s) and a behind-the-ear hearing aid in his left ear. In his shirt pocket he kept a mechanical pencil and a click pen, and he asked to have the receipt (instead of sticking in the bag) so he could record it in his ledger at home in order to track their finances.

He’d called ahead to have a book held (one he was buying for one of his grandchildren), and said that after driving 45 minutes in bumper-to-bumper traffic, he realized he’d gone to the wrong Barnes & Noble, which did not have the book he was looking for. So he hopped back in his car and drove another 45 minutes across town in bumper-to-bumper traffic to get to our store.

But he wasn’t upset or angry, and in fact, he shook my hand and kept thanking me for being so nice and for holding the book for him (all I did was grab it from the counter behind me, haha). Then he asked to speak to Patricia (or ‘Pah-tree-shah,’ as he said) who he spoke to on the phone so he could thank her, too.

You could tell this guy was truly from a different generation. He was appreciative, clean-cut, disciplined, orderly and responsible. In a lot of ways, he reminded me of my granddaddy, who’d be 86 this February.

At one point, he said that I didn’t have a Southern accent, but I explained that I’ve lived all 27 years of my life in Asheville (pronounced ‘Ashe-vull’ if you’re from here). He said I’d learned to “talk like a Yankee,” something very similar to what my granddaddy would say when giving me a hard time for “talkin’ like a Yankee” because of the way I’d pronounce words like “hawk” and “dog,” haha.

If you were to ask my granddaddy, who spent the majority of his life in North and South Carolina, both of those words have heavy “W” sounds (‘hAWk’ and ‘dAWg’).

The man this evening was more talkative than my granddady, and he spoke with a Northern accent rather than a Southern one, but he shared a number of the same qualities and characteristics – conscientious, friendly, courteous, kind and responsible while maintaining a real sense of humor. They even wore the same jacket and both carried a pencil and pen in their pocket.

My granddaddy, who was an electrical engineer with Carolina Power & Light (CP&L) for 38 years, volunteered at our church every week, went out of his way to help people, treated my grandmother like a queen (especially when she was going through cancer), and took care of and kept written records of all their finances.

You just don’t come across many people of that old-school style of discipline and responsibility anymore, and this gentleman just really made an impression on me because of how much he reminded me of my granddaddy.