Since long before I moved to this city, there's been a little corner gas station near where I now live. It's a simple little place - four pumps on each side of a little tiny building where you'd pay for your gas, all under a big, giant canopy. They had a few snacks, smokes, drinks...kind of a mom & pop type operation.
This little place is on the direct route between our house and the D-man's preschool. He likes to stop there in the mornings some times and grab a granola bar or something instead of having breakfast at home, so we've been stopping there fairly often for a couple of years.
There is a fellow who worked at this place whom I guess you would call "special." I don't know if he's retarded or just slow, or if he's had a medical condition...you can just tell that he isn't your run of the mill gas station clerk. He talks a little slowly and muddled, and his mannerisms are different letting you know that he isn't exactly what most would call "normal" (though being labeled as normal tends to make me cringe). He is, on the other hand, a friendly and efficient guy and obviously cares about his job and the way the place was run. I've seen him walking to work many times, and he always acts as if he's anxious to get there.
I could always tell by the way he interacted when checking you out that he lacked self confidence...he was a bit hesitant to make chit-chat, avoided eye contact and the like. He gave me the feeling that he was afraid someone would make fun of him if he said much. He always had a smile for the d-man, though.
I started going out of my way to make sure we had him check us out, to be extra nice to him, to let him know that I'm glad to see him, wish him a nice day, you know - letting him know that I think he's a good guy and that he's appreciated. He has responded very positively, and soon I noticed him smiling and talking to more customers, showing more self-confidence. I'd like to think I had a little part in that.
Anyway...one day, fairly abruptly it seemed, the station closed. They were building a brand new station across the street, and a sign went up announcing that this would be their new location. The new store was big, bright and shiny, with all of the "convenience store" amenities you could imagine. They opened about 2 weeks after the old one closed and had obviously hired a good sized batch of new employees. I didn't see my buddy anywhere. I was worried that, with the switchover, they had let him go.
Well, the other day we stopped there at our usual time for a bit of breakfast. I was milling around, waiting for the D-man to make up his mind about what he wanted (SO many more choices!) and my buddy came out of the back room! I was so happy to see him I nearly gave him a hug. He gave me a huge grin and I told him that I was happy to see that he was still working there. He said that he restocks shelves and cups & such. I'm so glad that they kept him on. We shared a bit of an awkward grin for a moment and then he bustled off to get his work done. When we left the store, I noticed that he was still grinning as he filled up the chips.
I admire the owners of this store for keeping him on. I don't know if he might be family or what, but it's just great that they didn't use the switch as an excuse to dump him. It's important to everyone, but especially to people like him to feel valued and to know that they are needed and appreciated. It's easy to make fun of these people and cast them aside, forgetting that they have feelings, too, and not thinking about the fact that they can make a positive contribution to our society. Every time I go there, I always peek around the back room door to see if he's there so I can give him a smile. I hope it brightens his day as it sure helps mine start out nicely.