Tuesday, July 15, 2014


In another life, I worked in retail management for Wilson’s Leather. I survived such leather fashion trends as the Top Gun/Raiders of the Lost Ark bomber jackets and the “Bon Jovi 80’s” fringe jackets craze. Adding up to eighteen years in customer service bliss. Even now, after being retired for almost nine years, I still have a nervous tic when I hear the phrase, “The customer is always right.” Most likely, if you’ve worked in retail, you HATE this phrase as well. While many customers are gracious and kind and understanding, a fare share are, quite frankly, assholes. Sorry. It’s the truth. And I’ve had my share of doozies! Experiences that range from funny to infuriating to scary. The scary ones are the worst.
L - R: Berman's Oakdale Mall 1988, Berman's King of Prussia Mall1992, Wilson's Outlet Fairgrounds Square Mall 1994.
 Negative aspects aside, retail also has its positive experiences. Thanks to Facebook, I keep in touch with most of my former employees. Many were high school and college students when they worked with me so now I get to see them all grown up and with families of their own. Working with the youngsters kept me young at heart. I was up on trends and spoke the lingo. Word. Now, I’m outdated and still say “word” only to get my seventeen year-old going about how out of touch I am.
L - R: Me and Andrea Christmas 1994, my outlet store staff at the Christmas party I hosted 1994 - Shawn, Kim, Trish, Theresa, and John.
While I was assistant manager of the King of Prussia Berman’s – The Leather Experts store in 1991, a young nursing school student came on as a part-time employee. She was gorgeous, outgoing, and had a wonderful sense of humor that often had us in tears from laughter when she acted out her alter ego characters. Especially her Chain-Smoker Marge character who was in her sixties and married to Harvey the Louse. She was so good at it, she would have customers rolling right along with us. The stuff she would come up with, off the cuff, was amazing! She was Robin Williams in a nursing student uniform. Andrea and I became close friends. After graduating nursing school and starting her first real job, she followed me to the Wilson’s Leather Outlet store in Reading when I took over as manager, helping out part-time during the busy holiday season. She brought Marge and her other personalities along with her allowing an entirely new staff to enjoy her material while we dealt with the public and sold leather.
 When my husband’s job transferred him back to our hometown, we’d also discovered my store would be closing at the end of its current lease—the following year. In light of the job market up home, my husband and I decided I'd see my store through to the end. I’d have my severance package and unemployment benefits as a safety net while job hunting. My entire store staff stayed with me. Every boss should have the same dedicated, hardworking, and loyal employees I had! I was extremely fortunate. For six months, I kept my costly apartment. One day, Andrea, who had recently purchased her first house, suggested I move in with her for my final six months and pay her a reduced rent, thus saving me money. From March 1995 to November 1995, I became part of the LaSota family. Her mother, Inge, her older sister, Sandy, and her nieces, Shiloh and Erin, welcomed me as if I was one of them. Some of my fondest memories date back to those six months. That November, with my Honda Civic Coupe loaded up with my last batch of belongings and Andrea’s cat (Gidget loved me more anyway), I moved back to my hometown. During the first twenty miles, tears streaked my face and a huge lump was lodged in my throat. It was hard leaving behind my Pottstown “family.” I never had a biological sister. Andrea came pretty close. Maybe even better than a sister since you can’t pick your family.
L - R: Me and Andrea during my labor, Aunt Andy with my oldest, Inge with my oldest, and Aunt Andy with my youngest.
A year after relocating, my husband and I had our first child. Andrea, already in her second year as a labor and delivery nurse, made the trip to Bradford County to coach me and see her goddaughter born. Inge joined her for the trip as well—like a proud grandma. Three years later, our second daughter was born and “Aunt Andy” was there for her delivery, too, with Inge in tow. Across the years and miles, we’ve kept in touch. I love when she goes on vacation and I get to see her photos and hear all about those destinations. She’s even called from Inge’s hometown in Wetzlar, Germany, on Christmas Eve (German Time), so I could hear the church bells ringing. She’s indulged my children with numerous trips to Philadelphia to see King Tut’s treasures, the Titanic - The Artifacts Exhibition, and Colonial Philadelphia. Knowing that my girls come from a small rural area, she does everything she can to expose them to metropolitan culture. Adventures are the perfect learning experience and Aunt Andy is always fun. During my earlier June Cleaver/PTA mom phase, Andrea, the career girl, went through an online dating phase. I lived for her “day after” phone calls in which she told me about her latest dude or dud—mostly duds. Hysterical stories I had to share with my local friends. One story in particular is known in my circle of friends as “Ta-da Man.” When in the company of new people, My Gal Friday will always say to me, “Tell them the 'Ta-da Man' story!” And I do. It always gets the same initial jaw-dropping reaction followed by raucous laughter.
Four years ago, Andrea met Lou, a high school teacher and they clicked. A year later they were engaged. They married this past July 5th. My husband and I traveled to Center City Philly for this most auspicious occasion. We expected horrible traffic. Big holiday weekend. Jersey Shore motorists on the "Shore-Kill Expressway." Fourth of July fireworks in the city where the Declaration of Independence was signed. You get the picture. Only it wasn’t bad at all. We stayed at the Hyatt Regency at Penn’s Landing. It sits smack-dab in the middle of Penn’s Landing and was a short five-minute walk to where both the wedding and reception were taking place. Andrea and Lou wanted a non-traditional venue. Something extraordinary. They pulled it off. I’m forty-four years old. I’ve been to lots of weddings. Great weddings. But this one, like I said, was extraordinary. The Moshulu is an early 20th Century sailing ship that is now permanently docked at Penn’s Landing and was resurrected as a gourmet restaurant with a AAA Four Diamond rating.
We left our room promptly at 6:00pm and, as the elevator doors deposited us in the lobby, we found the bride and her family assembling for their stroll along the boardwalk. Let me just say Andrea looked absolutely stunning in her antique white beaded gown. Stunning!! We had a short reunion on our way to the ship.  At a little after 6:30pm, I watched one of my oldest friends come down the aisle. I snapped photos and loved seeing the look on Lou’s face when he first saw Andrea in her gown. He tried his best to keep his composure, but some tears fell. It was a beautifully touching moment. They’d both written their own vows. While they said their most heartfelt words in front of their closest family and friends, a cool breeze drifted off the Delaware River. The overall mood was sentimental and happy.
L to R: Lou's all choked up, Inge and Bob giving their daughter away, The Blushing Bride.
Cocktail hour was held on the top deck and servers brought trays of delicious hors d’oeuvres and glasses of wine around. The old wheelhouse was converted into an open bar for those preferring other spirits to assist in the merry-making. Dinner was served in a private dining room. We were seated at a table with a few of Andrea’s co-workers. Names I knew from stories. It was nice being able to put faces with names. All the ladies and their spouses were friendly and fun. I’m always a little shy when folks ask me what I do for a living. Reactions are always varied. The title Romance Writer seems to make some chuckle. Others find it interesting. And a few wave it off as if it’s something tawdry. The folks seated with us fell into the interested category—thank GAWD. So we talked books and authors. My favorite subjects. Sue’s husband, Anthony, even said he’s always felt he could write a book. He said he had stories to tell. I encouraged him to go after it. Who knows? Maybe he will. We returned to the top deck in anticipation of a special treat. Penn’s Landing was hosting its Independence Day fireworks show right on the Delaware River that night. My husband and I found a viewing spot and watched as oohs and ahhs rang out from all around us. It was truly magical. An Independence Day celebration in the same city where our founding fathers started it all! I’m a history nerd. I loved every minute of it. When the fireworks ended, we returned to the seating area and had wedding cake along with a dessert buffet. I was in heaven. Heaven.  And a little tipsy. While saying goodbye and hugging the bride, I almost resorted to the shameful “I love you, man!” act. Too posh a setting for that act! Oh boy. My husband and I walked back to our hotel, hand in hand, while talking about our fabulous evening. Not bad for our first trip away without our children since 1997. (<----That's not a typo, folks!)
L to R: The Moshulu, kilts during the processional, and fireworks over the Delaware River!
On Sunday morning, we rose early, had breakfast in the hotel, and then set off on foot for the Colonial section of Philly. My husband had never been there before and, even though he doesn't share my love of history, I felt he needed to see Independence Hall in person. All Americans should. I adore it there! 
L to R: Houses in Society Hill, Independence Hall, and my favorite statue - The Signer.
 Andrea, thank you for a truly lovely experience. I wish you and your husband a long and happy life together. I know I haven't been the greatest friend over the past five years. Too much time goes between phone calls and visits. I suck. I hate how out of the loop I feel from your life. Just know, I haven't forgotten about you. I mean, really, how could I ever forget about Marge?!?     

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