Because your business is my business, too
I was twenty-six years old at the time. We’d been running the equipment business for only a few short years. I didn’t know very much about people at that age. Although I sure thought I knew a great deal about everything. (I was well into my thirties before it struck me how little I actually knew in my twenties.)
I suspect the two men, who came in that day when I was manning things alone, took full advantage of my ignorance. Actually I’m fairly certain that my ignorance is the reason they stopped.
I could tell something unusual was about to happen based on the guilty grins that they were trying not to show me (and which neither one could hide).
The two farmers sat down in the guest chairs across from Dennis’s desk. In our old building his office was adjoined to mine. When he wasn’t there I would sit in his chair, in his office, to deal with customers. It should be noted that in our old building my office didn’t have decent guest chairs and it was full of Legos and farm toys for the kids.
Feeling suspicious and not entirely sure what they needed, I asked, “Can I help you?”
Farmer one told me, “I need a secretary.”
It was shortly after wheat harvest and he had recently rented a harrow. Plus he had a checkbook in his hand. I presumed that he wanted to settle his bill. I wasn’t sure why farmer two was there with him, but I figured it wasn’t my concern.
As I was searching for his invoice, farmer one asked me to calculate some numbers on the desktop calculator. I assured him that his bill was already figured but he dismissed me. He said that I needed to punch the numbers he just gave me into the calculator and tell him the amount. So I did as he commanded and gave him the resulting number.
He pushed his open checkbook across the desk, confusing me further. With a nod of his head, he instructed me to write a check out for him. I protested that the calculator amount was not the amount he owes us. He said, again, that he needed a check written out for that amount. And then he told me to put farmer two’s name in the ‘payable to’ line.
I was starting to understand, but it was still not entirely clear. In hindsight I’m not sure why I went along with something I did not immediately understand (again: I was young at the time).
Farmer one then signed the check and gave it to farmer two. “There you go. We are all settled up for wheat harvest.”
Finally understanding what had happened, I found my wits and asked why I needed to be involved in all of that. I sure didn’t need to know the details about farmer two’s custom harvest business. But farmer two, sitting across from me and laughing openly, did seem to be perfectly okay with me being involved in all of it.
In answer to my question—farmer one, who had found his serious face and wasn’t budging for anything, simply repeated his initial request: “Well I told you that I needed a secretary.”
At suppertime I shared what had happened at work that day. “Today I learned that I should not listen to anyone without knowing the entire story first.” Then I concluded the story with: “That was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen.” It was so strange that at first Dennis didn’t believe me, “Noooo. Really?”
But even I couldn’t invent a scene that bizarre. Dennis’s shock wore off and he began to laugh, as did I. We are still laughing, fifteen years later, about what happened at work that particular day.
That incident has become precious to us because both men have now, unfortunately, passed on from this life.
Outside business gets handled often at other small businesses: drop-off points, meeting points, trailers spending the night on a graveled lot and even, at least that one time, tallying up someone else’s custom harvest bill.
There is some kind of an unspoken code that a business place is available for outside transactions, just by virtue of its being in existence.
In Rural America everyone thinks they have a responsibility to be involved in everyone else’s business. Which works great for dropping parts off at a gas station counter. It can be harder to take when it’s dealing with your personal life.
But I don’t want to be the cog that messes up a system that works so well. Besides, at some future point a seeming intrusion may become a cherished memory. In the meantime it gives you something to talk about at supper.
Andrea Beyers lives in Roscoe. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.