This article was first published in the Skagit Valley Food Coop's newsletter "The Natural Enquirer."
At some point during my stint as the HR manager at the Co-op I began to write a parody of “Hotel California” based on my work experience here. Only on my days off. It’s There were some rough spots because although colitas smell good rising up through the air, well, tulips don’t really have a fragrance, do they? I had some catchy phrase about “the river bend” instead of “mercedes benz” that was inspired, but the last line was pure genius: “you can clock-out any time you like, but you can never leave.” If you have ever worked here you get this. You are most likely nodding right now.
So I am again working at the Co-op. Every so often I get to put on a green apron and help out in the Health and Beauty Aid department, known to co-op’ers as HABA. This job is very different than Human Resources. In HABA people ask questions that often are solved very quickly and concisely. The short interaction usually ending with me placing the product they want in their hands, smiles all around. In HR...well, things sometimes got more involved than that.
What they both have in common is that I get to be around interesting and engaging people, coworkers and customers alike. In HR, my coworkers were my customers, and most of the time, I really liked that part of the job. In HABA, the customers give me the chance to share a bit of knowledge about the co-op and our products- and quite often it turns out- I learn something interesting through our conversations too.
Here’s my top ten to date of things I have learned.
1. Soaking your feet in hot black tea for three nights in a row can reduce smell and itchiness. An elder with a charming accent- maybe British?- told me of this simple remedy as we checked out the tea tree foot powder options. Use a separate batch of tea for sipping.
2. Bees have to make their wax honey comb before they can produce honey. Well, where else would they store it? Since the wax takes up a bit of energy to make, many bee keepers have their bees reuse their wax. Trouble is with folks spraying flowers with all sorts of chemicals the wax hexagons to house the baby bees can be toxic! WSU recently published a study with these findings and now recommends that bees rebuilt their wax rooms every five years. Another reason to use Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap to kill pests on plants. (For more info on the study go to www.ens-newswire.com and search for “beeswax”).
3. Green lipped mussels, the ones that live in shells and come from New Zealand, may help reduce arthritic inflammation in people and dogs. I found this out while helping a customer research treatment options on the touch-screen computer in the HABA department. This free resource is available for everyone to use and you can print out the articles to take home. Plus it notes scientific studies and is available in Spanish!
4. Citric acid, which we sell in the bulk herb department, can be run through your empty dishwasher to help deoxidize and disinfect. I learned this when answering the store phone. I also learned citric acid is an essential ingredient when making cheese.
5. Digestive bitters, available in tinctures, help to curb acid reflux by stimulating our natural digestive powers. They are to our gut what the phone booth was to superman.
6. DGL, Deglycyrrhizinated licorice root extract, which is most often used to aid digestion may also help to treat pain related to inflammation. It is a chewable tablet that also comes in german chocolate flavor!
7. Foot soaks are a popular present for moms. The bulk sea salt is ideal for this. I hope these are followed by foot rubs. I am a mom. I have two feet and two boys. This could work out well for me.
8. Fighting oral thrush can be as simple as popping open a probiotic pill into water and swishing that about in your mouth for a few minutes. If a nursing babe has oral thrush the powder can be dusted on the mama’s breast before feeding the little love bundle.
9. A mint allergy makes finding a mouth wash very, very difficult.
10. When we come to the co-op we are doing more than just buying. We sometimes are looking for something that doesn’t come in a bottle, tube or jar.
This point is the most important to me. What I have realized is that people shop at the Co-op for many of the same reasons that I work here. It’s the eye-contact, the smiles, the attention of another person inside of a store that has intentionality outside of making money. We meet up here under the canopy of ivy plants with tendrils as long as Main Street because we are part of this community and we want to build onto that community through connection.
Case in point: Recently a woman with gray owl eyes and a shy, polite smile walked up to the counter where I stood squinting at an invoice. She wore a plaid flannel shirt and jeans in soft tones, like stones. I noticed something else about her right away: she was present. She was genuine. She needed something from me, but that didn’t mean that she was treating me only as a means to an end. I felt noticed as a person by her which sometimes doesn’t happen when you work in service jobs.
She asked me, somewhat hesitantly if we carried a product called “L-Theanine.” Since we have thousands of products and I don’t work very often I used my Nancy Drew skills to figure out where the product would be if we did have it. I asked her some questions and located a bottle of it in our de-stress section. She was hoping to find something to help her get to sleep. I showed her the many options we have from kava to melatonin. I pointed out the supplements, the tinctures and mentioned the teas I found relaxing.
Folks ask for all sorts of things in HABA and sometimes they tell you what they want it for and sometimes they don’t. In my own life, obstacles to sleep come in so many shades and hues- laundry, a good movie, a bad book, sounds of critters on the roof. I honestly didn’t even ponder what was keeping her from restful slumber, but I got the sense that she felt vaguely embarrassed or uncomfortable about asking for a sleep aid. She calmly and quietly said, “I’m having trouble sleeping. My daughter is missing.”
Did the world stop for a second then? Did the ground dip down an inch or a mile? Did this lurching in my chest take away breath from my lungs? Yes. All of that and more. We see Amber alerts and forward along emails, but have you ever before thought about the mother needing to go and purchase a sleep aid because at night the thoughts and fears have no where to hide in the darkness? I hadn’t. But here she was next to me, her shoulders both strong and curved toward, tipped toward her heart maybe a bit more than before like a shield.
My respond, “I am so sorry” was, of course, not enough to express any of what I was feeling or wanting to give her: a hug, my tears, her daughter- safe at home. My simple words did seem to offer her some small comfort. She tilted her head downward in a slight nod. The secret pain she carried was maybe lightened just for that moment by sharing it. Maybe my thoughts and prayers for her and her family will help. Maybe yours will too.
Plato said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” This is what I relearn each time I clock-in. The battle might be rough elbows or it might be cancer. It could be an inflamed knee or a sore heart. Whatever the battle- kindness will help both the giver and the receiver. It might just look like I’m dusting shelves and stocking soap; maybe it seems like you are only smelling shampoo. But as we do this and that, underneath the pictures of those gnomes with signs that read “Be nice, it works!” we are also taking a respite from our own battles to hope for more neighbors, fewer strangers. We are searching for allies in the fringes of our lives, in the aisles of our Co-op. A place to put down a little bit of a burden or pick up a small piece of hope along with that toothpaste.
The Co-op is a community- has been for almost forty years- and while you can push your cart to your car and drive home or clock-out and breath a sigh of relief that you’ve got a three-day weekend ahead of you, you can’t ever really leave the co-op. Because part of you stays here and part of you will always come back. I’m glad for it and that’s the one line of my Eagles’ redo I never did change: “such a lovely place.”