My father’s birthday falls about a week before Christmas and for the past several years my siblings and I have had some local chocolates delivered to his place of business. There is much fanfare, his employees are also able to participate in the fun, and the delivery makes the day memorable for all involved. This year, as he was approaching a milestone birthday, I thought briefly of doing something different — that is to say, ordering a delivery from somewhere different. The town where I spent my childhood, and where my father still lives, is not entirely devoid of clever gustatory options but since taking my leave many years ago I am less familiar with what those options may be. So after approximately two hundred seconds of google-mediated soul-searching, I opted to stay with tradition. Not being tethered to a sense of tradition in most of other parts of my life, this decision was therefore more practical than sentimental. However, all that changed after a phone call.
I rang the local chocolate shop on the weekend prior to the big birthday and proceeded to explain my request. I wanted a one-pound box of sugar free chocolates (for my diabetic dad) and a box of other chocolates (for his non-diabetic staff) delivered to his office. The voice on the other end of the phone balked. Wha– Um– We don’t do deliveries…? She said in that inflected manner in which statements sound curiously like questions. I explained slowly that I had been placing the same order for at least five or six years now and each time it is a delivery order. Um…. hold on. [I can hear some conversation on the other end between my telephone interlocutor and her colleague (collective age, 35… I’m guessing…) and then returns, with a gasp, to the phone] Yeah, we don’t deliver…? Um, but you can call Sue on Monday. She can help you…? I thanked her for her assistance and then on the following Monday morning, I placed a call and had the most pleasant chat with Sue:
Me: Hi, may I speak with Sue please?
Sue: This is Sue.
Me: Hi Sue, this is [me] and I’m calling to place an order for delivery for my dad’s birthday.
Sue: Oh! I was waiting for your call! How are ya? How’s your dad?
Me: I’m doing well and so is he, thanks. And you? You must be busy this time of year.
Sue: [pause] Yeah… well, I hope it gets busier. [pause] Well, what are we putting together this time? The sugar free box, right?
Me: Yes! And also something for his staff — maybe you can help me with this.
Sue: Sure — so the one-pound assortment – Sugar Free! I always remember [i think i hear her smiling] and I’m putting a label on it, too — and then, do you wanna put together a tray of other goodies? We’ve done a few for some local law firms — we package them up nicely with cellophane and wrapping — the whole works. It’ll be great.
Me: That sounds really lovely. Thank you — I think they’ll enjoy it. [pause] Do you need the address?
Sue: Nah — I know where it is — on the second floor, right? Yeah, not a problem.
I give her my payment information, and spell out the names for the card, and thank her again for her help.
Sue: Oh, it’s my pleasure. And thank you for thinking of us.
We hang up. Her last words linger in my mind as I recall her response to my query about how busy they must be: “I hope it gets busier.” And suddenly I am overcome with a deep (albeit somewhat fleeting) sense of sadness. All of the chatter in the mediaspheres about fiscal cliffs, taxes on small businesses, the pundits and politicians waxing (non)philosophic about the pl/fight of the middle class — all came into stark relief in this small moment. Business decoupled from finance, businesses as staples of communities, businesses as dependent upon and depended on by citizens. In a world dominated by Amazon and the like, it’s easy to forget (or at least it was for me) the importance of the smallness. Local is not mere ontology or discursive opposition to global — local is quotidian, local is lived, local is in many ways global itself. (I’m resisting the urge here to pontificate further on this notion: What is globalization but a series of connected locals?… You’re welcome)
Now, I’m no purist nor extremist (nor any -ist, really) — I won’t stop using Amazon, but in the moment of my conversation with Sue, and our follow-up exchange (below), the bigness of small moments moved me deeply. And I’m reminded of the fruit and veg stand on Southampton Row near the Sainsbury’s where I bought fruit for several months last year; and the series of coffee shops around my home in Philadelphia that are not franchised, some of which are host to artwork by local artists including:
- Chapterhouse – where there’s an exhibit by Lynette Shelley and Eleanor Grosch currently ongoing
- Red Hook Coffee – currently hosting a photography exhibit by students from Fleischer Arts til January 20th.
Later the same afternoon–
Me: Hi Sue, I saw you called.
Sue: Oh yeah, I forgot how to spell your dad’s last name but then I remembered right after I called you.
Me: Ok, great. Did you need anything else?
Sue: No, it worked out fine. Your dad is so cute — as soon as I walked in, he looked up and said “She never forgets.” And he looked so happy. And we put the cookie tray in the main room for everyone to enjoy.
Me: Thank you so much. Really.
Sue: Well, thank you for thinking of us and using us. Have a good holiday.
Me: You, too.
It turns out that they do not, in fact, deliver. Except for this delivery each December. For the past few years, and, if I can help it, for the next several to come.
May 2013 bring continued glimpses of humanity, joy, and small moments that make up lives…