Our Lives

Hard work and good service have no season

November 17, 2012 

KIMBERLYCONLEY.OURLIVES2012.AL.JEL

Kimberly Conley.

JLEONARD@NEWSOBSERVER.COM — JULI LEONARD

I love fall. The cooler weather, the reprieve of the humidity, leading to what will hopefully be more good hair days than bad, is a real coup. Think what you will, but as a woman in the South, this is an exciting time of year.

I love the leaves too. The changing of color and their eventual drop is, well, comforting. It’s something you can count on in these days of change and uncertainty.

Of all the senses, though, it is the smell of fall that takes me back to my childhood. Then, the smell of the leaves starting to compost on the still green grass underneath meant opportunity. As a middle-schooler, rake in hand, I’d canvass the neighborhood, asking our neighbors if I might take care of their leaves for a small fee. Small yards might garner 50 cents; the tougher ones, one whole dollar. I enjoyed it, although I don’t remember saving for anything in particular. I just liked the idea of being able to make my own way. I still do.

We have a lot of entrepreneurs in my family. It seems to have started with my grandfather. He died two and a half years ago and I miss him dearly. His birthday was October 4, so, I think a lot about him in the fall.

As a young man back in the ’50s, Grandpa started his own floor-cleaning business in my hometown of Rochester, New York. When he returned from the army, he went to work in my great-grandmother’s restaurant, the Chick-a-Rib. He soon realized that every restaurant could use a cleaning service at one time or another, so he started one. He grew the business until he had about 12 hardworking employees working with him at any time. As a young girl, I noticed how he seemed to leave for work in the wee hours of the morning and not return until dinner. I didn’t get to see him as much as I wanted. But I never doubted his love. And I loved him beyond compare.

When I did get to see him, it was always worth the wait. I respected him, and with that, hard work. Work was a big part of who he was. It seemed that hard work led to good things, which for my brother and me included dinners out, new clothes and trips to the local amusement park.

My grandfather wasn’t just a hard worker. He had a personality that was upbeat and jovial – a real people person. His laughter would fill a room and then some. He had no website, no marketing strategy, just person-to-person agreements with a handshake. He was persuasive too. As he finished a story, laying out his plight of this or that injustice, he would often end with an “Am I right, or am I right?” To which we would generally concede, heads nodding yes, not knowing how we could possibly argue with his reasoning. That’s why, when he was the customer, he expected the same level of respect.

I guess you’d call what he had street smarts, and he had lots of it. He kept his business going as he and my grandmother wintered in Florida, eventually moving to the Sunshine State. He was almost into his 70s before he gave it up completely, and at that point was sort of a scheduler of jobs and a quality assurance manager. Pretty impressive for someone with a seventh-grade education.

I could only hope to have a smidgen of his business sense, his charm, his dedication and energy. I don’t know if he ever doubted himself. Maybe that was never an option.

I still “canvass” for business, but now it’s as a writer with my tools, pen and paper, and the work isn’t seasonal. What I learned from my grandfather is seasonless too; hard work is a forgone conclusion – you’ve got to have a sense of what people need. Not just what service or product they may need, but also how they expect to be treated. As we become more and more an Internet-based society, have we lost sight of the value of personal relationships? People still deserve to be treated with respect and maybe even a warm demeanor, especially when they’re spending their hard-earned money. Grandpa, you were right, so right.

kimberly5.17@hotmail.com

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