On a personal note 5

She had an infectious laugh. If she laughed, you couldn’t help but smile. Her accent reflected her Texan origins, but she was deeply in tune with the minds and patterns of her Californian customers. Her business had been a part of Morro Bay for so long, it was an institution. Nobody came to our coastal town without stopping in for some salt water taffy or cinnamon rolls.

Everyone was used to her habits and cycles. Vendors avoided coming in on Tuesdays and Thursdays because on those days she had her beloved water therapy sessions. She would always come in on Mondays to catch up on her book work, though sometimes she’d take it home to finish. She always got her hair done at the same salon, and it seemed like she had a friend or relative taking her out to dinner just about every night.

She had her way of doing things, and it always made sense to her. She kept paperwork in giant buckets, washed the employees’ aprons in her home washing machine, and insisted that we could only give free samples of two things: taffy and ice cream. Nothing else.

Her fondness for ordering things meant the “gift shop” part of her store was always an overcrowded, bizarre mix of things. Try as we might to keep it looking nice, we had three separate racks of wind chimes, an overcrowded wall of salt & pepper shakers (with back-ups spilling over her desk), and so much costume jewelry and other knickknacks on the counters that handing customers the candy they had just ordered was a chore. And she would always find the strangest things to try to sell, from margarita-shaped hummingbird feeders to T-shirts to condiment platters to piggy banks to teddy bears. She even tried to sell a toilet seat once!

She also seemed to sometimes be caught in some kind of strange time warp. She carried rare, old-fashioned candies like horehound drops and divinity. Her cash registers looked like they had been lifted from an ’80s movie, and couldn’t even print receipts for customers; we had to write them by hand. She called the back of a car the “turtle”, and she seemed unaware that it is called the “trunk” by pretty much everyone else. She had an old cell phone that she never used; it just stayed in her purse, turned off. She used land-lines for everything. And she refused to keep a computer at work, or to order anything online, or to have anything to do with the Internet.

Yet she was more to us than just an eccentric boss. She legitimately cared about all of us, and treated us like family. If we needed money, she’d gladly give us more hours or maybe even an advance in an emergency. If we just needed a listening ear, she’d offer hers. She never asked anyone to do anything she hadn’t done herself. She inspired confidence in people, and kept us motivated. She attended our birthday parties, graduations, and other major events. She was loath to fire anyone, and did so only as a last resort.

She even volunteered to help me with one of my earliest assignments as a new college journalism student:

The truth is, she is the reason I was able to attend college at all, or at least without racking up student loan debt. The paychecks I got from her went to my tuition, fees, and textbooks. The money I got in tips went toward bus passes and hot lunches. For six years of my life I worked for her. In that time, I went through so many changes that I feel like a completely different person. When I began my employment, I was about to graduate high school and still quite immature. I had never so much as done dishes before, let alone held a steady job. By the end, I was one of her most  trusted workers.

Thus, it was with great shock and sadness that I heard that she passed away Saturday. She was more than an employer to me. She was in some ways a mentor, in some ways a grandmother, and in some ways a friend. I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say she played a huge role in who I am today. As I, now an adult and a college graduate, begin the next phase of my life, I will miss her. I will miss her laugh. I will miss her colorful Southernisms. I will miss her determination and work ethic. I will miss her empathy and her kindness. I will miss her long stories and her apparent inability to end a conversation. I will miss the eccentric ways she ran her business. I will miss everything about her.

In Memoriam

Savannah Williams