Thank you Red

Thank you Red

So often we fail to realize the true worth of wisdom shared until years later. We go about our lives, until one day the immense impact of a long-ago moment hits us and we wish we could go back in time to say “Thank you” for the guidance.

My cherished mentor was a window clerk at the main post office in Washington DC in 1969.  I was a summer hire working my way through college when I met “Red”.  My job took me past his window several times a day where he always had a smile and some words of encouragement for me.  When there was a lull in the day, Red would share his own observations on life, learned from experience.

As fall arrived, I returned to school, planning to work again at the post office over Christmas break.  However, I eventually heard that none of the previous summer’s crew were being hired again.  With a typical teenage “That’s not fair!” whine, I popped by to see Red and complain.  He looked at me, not with the usual twinkle in his eyes, but with a serious expression and said, “Make your case.”

My quizzical look prompted Red to point across the wide marble-floored post office lobby to a huge, imposing, polished wood door bearing the sign, “Postmaster”.  My face took on a panicked expression.  How could I, a super shy teen, walk into the postmaster’s office and ask to be considered for a seasonal position.  No way! 

Red just smiled, still gesturing toward the massive door, saying, “Make your case.”  As I crossed the seemingly endless space between Red’s window and the postmaster’s office, I kept looking back over my shoulder. Each time, Red would give me the go-ahead with a wave of his hand.

Slowly opening the door to the inner sanctum, I found the receptionist’s desk empty. Looking around the door though, I saw the postmaster working on some papers at his desk in the inner office. I shot another pleading look back at Red, who again waved me on.

Taking a deep breath, I approached the inner office slowly, timidly.  As the postmaster looked up, meeting my gaze, all of a sudden a confident voice I never knew I had said, “Hi.  I need five minutes of your time because I have a problem and I think you can help.”  To my surprise, this heretofore imaginary force-to-be-feared gestured for me to come in, with a friendly, “What can I do for you?”

“I was planning to work here for the holidays, but understand you’re not hiring any of us from the summer,” I said, without the whine.  “There wasn’t anyone worth hiring,” he replied bluntly, looking back down at his papers. 

At this point, the shy me would have turned and left with a weak “Sorry to have bothered you.” However, Red’s “Make your case.” was swirling around in my head. Politely but firmly, I did just that.

Mr. Postmaster all of a sudden really looked at me, paused, then said, “Who was your supervisor?”  I gave him the name and watched nervously as he picked up the receiver on his telephone, made a quick call and said, “I have a young lady here, looking to come back to work for the holidays.  She says she was a good summer employee.”  After passing on my name, he listened for several moments to the voice at the other end of the line, responding only with an occasional “Hmmm.” or “Really?”

Finally hanging up the phone, he said, “So, when can you start?”

I bounced back across the lobby beaming, to see Red beaming back at me.  “I KNEW you could do it!” he exclaimed.

I never knew Red’s full name, but how I wish I could tell him that “Make your case.” has been my guiding mantra ever since.  It worked when I sought my first post-college job on Capitol Hill. It worked when I needed to get my mom into a rehab hospital instead of the suggested nursing home.  Passing his words on to my daughters, “Make your case.” has served them well in their own pursuits through educational and job opportunities.

Red, I love the confidence you instilled in me, the wisdom you shared, and the genuine joy you got from helping others succeed.  Thank you for being there.  I just wish I could thank you in person.