February 2020

Mrs. Morgenthaler

What this country needs now is the sense of working together for the common good that prevailed during and after WWII.

I apologize for not having uttered a post this year until now, worrying some kind readers. All I can do is bark, “No excuse, Sir!” And then, after a decent interval, start whining. But hey, I’m still alive, I can still walk short distances and ride the Segway for longer ones, I’m still cranking out the preserves albeit at a slower pace, I still have friends who are kind to me, and I now have appointments with two new health care folks who are going to wave their magic stethoscopes or more invasive instruments and fix some problems.

And speaking of kindness there was an aha moment about 1984 that has had a profound effect on me.

Some background: In 1984 I was a minor partner in a small limousine company and chauffeured clients from all over the world, some of whom were ogres and others, secular saints. In the latter category was Mrs. Morgenthaler, a fairly frequent client since she was often in town. She and her husband were old money from Cleveland who had raised four kids. The youngest, a daughter, was about to matriculate at San Francisco State and join the rest of her siblings in the Bay Area.

And for Mr. and Mrs. Morgenthaler, that tore it. Since every damn one of the kids wanted to be in the Bay Area, they should really just get a pied-à-terre in San Francisco rather than spending all that time in hotels during their frequent visits.

So instead of just driving Mrs. Morgenthaler around for shopping and to spend time with kids, the majority of my job became driving her around the city while she examined real estate at the tops of buildings. It was then that it finally sank in just how rich they were since she wasn’t looking at anything but penthouses.

I saw Mr. Morgenthaler only once. One time I delivered her to a restaurant and he was waiting for us out front. After I’d let her out, he came up to me and bestowed upon me some of the highest praise I’d ever received. “You’re my wife’s favorite chauffeur…and she’s got a lot of ’em.”

While searching for a San Francisco home, Mrs. Morgenthaler was also furnishing the apartment her daughter had selected, not with fine antiques but substantial stuff. She’d picked out a handsome dining-room/kitchen table the previous day, and it was to be delivered not all that long before her flight back to Cleveland departed. Cutting it rather thin, I worried. There we were, waiting patiently (her) and impatiently (me) as the agreed-upon delivery time came and went. She called the store and was reassured that the truck was on its way. And thankfully, fairly soon I saw it. Over there. In the wrong lot for this building. I ran across and shouted to them that they had to go back around and follow the signs for the address. It seemed like forever, but they finally managed to find the right entrance and rolled up.

I was drawing a breath the better to fully express my opinion of how this delivery was going so far when, thankfully, she came outside. The thumb-fingered louts opened the back of the truck so they could proudly display to her that they’d put her table at the very back to be delivered first. I was still seething, but managed to stifle any comment.

And then Mrs. Morgenthaler stepped to the back of the truck and looked closely at the table. “Oh dear. Oh dear. I’m so sorry, but this is not my table.” While steam shot out my ears, the louts protested that that’s the one they were given. She rejoined that she was sure the fault wasn’t theirs, but in any case it wasn’t her table.

So I put her into the car. (Not a showy limousine but rather an innocuous late model Cadillac sedan that she’d chosen the moment we let her know that we could provide less conspicuous transportation than a limousine.) I got her to the airport with several minutes to spare, and that was the last time I saw her since my friend Al got me a job as a technical writer and I had left the company before her next visit.

But even as I drove her to the airport, I was replaying our encounter with the delivery louts, saying over and over to myself, “I must model my behavior on hers.”

So she left me with an important lesson, one that I try with increasing success to follow because I’m so embarrassed when I fail: when people make mistakes, it’s no more difficult to be gracious than it is to be harsh. The immediate benefit is that being gracious leaves happy people behind you who are eager to make right any error.

Although in her case, she was so damn gracious that I’m sure she’d never even thought about any benefit to herself. I’m thinking that her parents would have taught her at an early age noblesse oblige.

Meanwhile, because for technical reasons I needed to go back and pick an old pic today, here’s one I probably used in 2016. It’s entitled “We’re hungry now!”

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