For anyone who is...or has come across anyone who has a disability challenge, has a skin covering that is anything less than lily white, is less than affluent regarding wealth, or is one of the elderly population...this column is dedicated to you. I discovered early in life that you cannot judge a book by its cover...and this column refers to that bit of insight.
My first such experience occurred when I was in Grade 9. I had been hospitalized with what was thought to be Rheumatic Fever...but was actually a form of arthritis. A local farmer came into my hospital room to bring a gift and to wish me a speedy recovery. I had never met him but when he gave me his name I recognized who he was. The person visiting was wearing farm clothes...twill pants and shirt and work boots...and he was a multi-millionaire.
The fact that he dressed like all the other farmers and had taken the time to visit a young girl in the hospital made him my hero. I learned that he and his wife had no children. However, they put a tremendous amount of time and funds into programs that helped families.
My own casual attire has at times been met with judgment. One such incident occurred a few months after we moved to Amherst. Since much of my work has been in creating paintings in oil, acrylic and watercolour I tend to wear jeans and t-shirts or sweatshirts. At time those garments will be decorated with a bit of paint.
A friend's birthday was approaching, and I wanted to send a gift. She loved scarves, so I headed out to a local store to look for a silk scarf. It didn't take long to find the perfect one...and I headed toward the cash register to make the purchase. A well-dressed lady behind me was motioned forward and the fellow took her payment. He then went to help other customers who were browsing and would return to the cash register to take their payment.
Then there was no one but me in the area. The fellow looked at the scarf I was holding and told me they had a table with some that were less expensive. I told him that the one I had was what I wanted and he took my money. Years later I learned that the man had retired, and it was sometime after that before I entered that store again. I probably could have reported his behaviour to the manager or to the owners of the store...possibly getting him fired. Instead I chose not to deal with him. I suppose I could have also walked out without purchasing the scarf, but it was beautiful and it was perfect for my friend.
There is one other type of bias that I have recently started to experience. This past week I had a bit of shopping to do. As I was paying for a few groceries the clerk said, “Have a good day, dearie.” I then went into other shop and as I tapped my credit card that clerk said, “Thanks, dear.” It hit me between the eyes and into the brain...referring to me as “dear or dearie” is very inappropriate. I have had heard other senior ladies also addressed in that manner but I have not heard a senior male referred to as dearie.
When I was a young woman I was called “Miss,” then later on it was “Mam” - the shortened version of Madam. Those close to me will call me “Dear,” but a clerk who may not even know my name is not a person who is near and dear to my heart. Nor am I near and dear to them.
I suspect the free use of “Dear” in addressing older ladies is a Maritime thing. I have not heard it used in British Columbia where my daughter lives. I probably will be addressed in that manner again. I could stop shopping at that grocery store, or at the other shop. Instead, I think I will reply with...” And a good day to you also, Honey Bunch.”
Shirley Hallee is a freelance writer living in Amherst. Her column appears weekly in the Amherst News.