You’re at a reception or maybe sitting on a plane, and you meet someone new. Eventually, he or she asks: “So, what do you do?”
Last week, I invited readers to share the reaction they get when they tell someone about their vocation. Here’s a sampling of the responses.
Jane Webb, owner of Seville Flower & Gift, e-mailed about a time she and a fellow florist were shopping for a 50th birthday gift for a colleague. They went into a jewelry store that was part of a national chain — the kind of store where sales clerks seem trained to establish deep, personal relationships with potential customers the instant they walk through the door.
The saleswoman was very chatty. Soon she asked what line of work they were in.
“When we responded we were florists, the first thing out of her mouth was: ‘Aww, how sweet!’ ” Jane recalled. “Like we were a couple of 2-year-olds who were playing with puppies while blowing bubbles and dancing.”
Needless to say, they didn’t buy any jewelry there.
A few years ago, I spent an enjoyable morning sitting beside Tony Hall in the cab of a city garbage truck as he made his rounds. He sent this letter about the reaction he gets to his job.
“When I am asked what I do for a living, my reply is: ‘I drive a garbage truck for the city of Medina,’ ” Hall wrote. “The most common reply is: ‘There’s nothing wrong with that.’ It always seems to be in a condescending manner.
“When I say: ‘I know. It’s the best job I’ve ever had,’ they usually give me a puzzled look and ask, ‘Really?’ Then I proceed to say: ‘We don’t make a ton of money, but we do have great hospitalization, 10 paid holidays, sick time — and we find great stuff!’
Hall added: “After a short pause, many people will say: ‘Are they hiring?’ ”
In last week’s column, I joked I was going to start saying I was a UPS man — since everyone loves the UPS man.
Curt Waite e-mailed that’s certainly the case at his house. Waite wrote to say his wife is on a first-name basis with their driver — giving him zucchini bread and including him on her Christmas list.
Even the family dog came to recognize the distinctive sound of the approaching UPS truck and barked when it was still some distance down the road.
As far as his own occupation, Waite was farming in the midst of the difficult agricultural economy of the late ’80s and early ’90s — a financial climate that rivaled today’s recession, he said.
“When asked, my wife would answer honestly that her husband was a farmer,” Waite recalled. “The reply was either silence or, ‘I am so sorry.’ ” But there was an upside.
“Her reply worked very well when she was confronted with telephone solicitors and usually resulted in a quick exit from the sales pitch,” Waite wrote.
Whenever I visit a farmer, I always hope to hear the same question: “Would you like to see the farm?”
To some farmers, business is business. Their land and animals are commodities and they have little relationship with them. Others have an instinctive bond with the living soil. They know every foot of every fencerow, the personality of every field, every bend in the creek, the story of every building. Frank Ehrman, who passed away Sept. 9 at age 77, was that kind of farmer.
I was blessed to visit with Frank and Marilyn Ehrman many times — often to tap their knowledge for stories I was writing, but just as often, simply to visit. Sitting at their kitchen table once over a cup of coffee, Frank offered me cream. I’m a black coffee guy and said “no, thank you.” Frank looked at me sternly. It was then I learned an important lesson: When a dairy farmer offers you cream, you take it. Someone’s livelihood depends on it.
One day, when I stopped by the house, he asked : “Would you like to see the farm?”
“Sure,” I said, trying to be casual, when inside I felt like a little kid being handed the keys to the candy store.
Frank opened the barn door to his well-used but well-cared-for Ford tractor. It had a carry-all on back with a supply of birdseed for replenishing feeders all around the farm. The six-volt starter turned the engine over in that slow, distinctive, “ruh-ruh-ruh” that immediately took me back to the sound of my grandpa’s old Ferguson tractor and similar rides around his Knox County farm.
I climbed up beside Frank in the customary tractor-ride-along-seat — standing on the back axle and leaning against the fender.
He drove out the barnyard and down into the fields, by the railroad tracks, across the creek, into the woods and back again. Every so often, Frank stopped and turned off the engine to point out a favorite wildflower, tree or family picnic spot. He told the history of each field.
It was an honor to see a patch of God’s creation with someone who had been its friend and steward for so long. I am grateful to Frank for sharing it with me that sunny day.
I like to think that when I cross the creek someday, he’ll be one of those on the other side, waiting to show me the farm once again. And yes, sir … I will take cream in that cup of coffee.
Contact John Gladden at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @thatjohngladden.