Even before my diagnosis of Cervical Dystonia 5 1/2 years ago, I have always been someone who advocates for myself and others. I’m pretty sure I learned this trait from my parents, especially my dad.
One of my parents’ dreams had always been to open their own pharmacy. So when I was 10, our family of four began traveling to small towns throughout the Midwest in search of Mom and Dad’s future business. On one of our visits to Worthington, Minnesota, which had made the top of the list for buying our family-owned drugstore, I can clearly remember a meal we were having in the restaurant at the Holiday Inn. Our waitress started out clueless and, to our dismay, continued down that path. As my parents attempted to order our entrees, we were constantly told they were out of the main ingredients. Finally, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich was ordered for my younger brother Steve, and for once, she said they would be able to prepare it with all of the ingredients. All three! When our food arrived, Steve took one bite out of his sandwich and said, “Where’s the jelly?” Seriously, there was none to be found between the two slices of bread that had been listed as Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich on the menu. For a 6 year-old, that’s a huge deal. A request was made by my Dad for the jelly to be added to the sandwich. “Sure, I’ll go get some” was her response. However, after a lengthy wait, the jelly never arrived. So my dad stood, picked up my brother’s plate, and carried it back to the kitchen. He was going to get that jelly one way or another. Believe it or not, my dad soon found out from the “cooks” that they were out of jelly too! However, the point is that my dad tried. He taught me not to settle for anything less than I deserve. As a result, I have always spoken up when someone has tried to take advantage of me or has treated me with disrespect, and I always will.
Although we didn’t end up buying the pharmacy in Worthington, in 1981 my parents did purchase their dream store in Luverne, just 25 miles west of Worthington. From the very beginning, my parents worked hard at treating all of their customers fairly. That meant if a customer had a disability, an illness, or any other reason for needing their medications delivered, they would do it. Did it take extra time and effort? Of course. Did that put them behind in all the other work that still needed to get done that day? Yes. But they were determined to be respectful of the individual needs of their customers. I strongly believe that’s why Shaw Drug was so successful.
In 1986, when I turned 16, I was given the task of driving around town to make some of the deliveries. This rarely involved quickly dropping the medications off at the door and moving on to the next stop. Typically, I would be invited inside a home or apartment at the assisted living tower so that the customer could write a check for their bill. It didn’t take me long to figure out that most of the people I delivered to were really seeking someone who would spend time with them. They would talk about their children and grandchildren, their aches and pains, a favorite game show that was on in the background…Sometimes it took half an hour of conversation before the customer even retrieved a checkbook, but I knew in my heart that I couldn’t just leave.
Now, thirty years later, I am one of those people who yearns for someone to come to my home to talk with me or even just sit next to me on the couch so we can watch a favorite TV show together. I get it! It can be very isolating to have a disability, especially when you are single and you’re the only human living in your household. Most of the people I delivered to had lost their significant others, so they were living alone too. If I knew then what I know now, it wouldn’t have seemed like such a chore to make repeat deliveries to the people I already knew would chat the longest. Once you walk in someone else’s shoes, even twenty-five years later, that kind of empathy becomes a part of your being in an entirely different way.
My parents taught me the importance of treating people equally, and that, very often, this equality looks and sounds very different from the norm. We’ll dive deeper into this concept in Part 2 of our trilogy about “Being There”.