Unexpected Excellence

Aug 21, 2019–I love encountering unexpected excellence in unusual places.

This happened when I was traveling back to my small hometown in Iowa. Our regular stops include the local general merchandise stores run by Amish and Mennonite families that have settled in the area.

My wife had asked me to pick up some wooden toaster tongs. They are those simple little gadgets designed to extract stuck pieces of toast, without needing to jam a metal fork into bare wires running 110 volts. I know you can find these at any grocery store or online, but it it makes it more of an adventure to drive 1200 miles to buy a commodity.

Indeed I found them in one of these general stores that sells “everything you didn’t know you needed until you see it.” But alas, I was presented with the classic “husband’s dilemma.” There were two models to choose.

My wife had said nothing about the provenance of the wood, the style of hinge, or the desired tong length.

As I pondered my decision, the young local lady who worked there approached me way too quickly.

“May I help you?” she asked.

I panicked.

“I’m supposed to buy wooden tongs, but you have two styles!” I explained in a voice that sounded much too trebly.

Without a pause, she said, “Buy both.”

I looked at her, weighing her unexpected statement. I had no response, so I changed the subject to give me more time to think.

“I also usually buy paring knives here,” I said. “But since I’m flying, I probably can’t carry them back.”

Again she had an immediate answer.

“Do you check your baggage?” she asked. “It’s OK to carry them that way.”

She was good. I looked at her again.

“You’re quite the salesperson,” I said.

She smiled and shrugged.

“N-O just means ‘New Opportunities,’” she said.

Again I stared at this young lady, wearing the unadorned plain blue dress of her religious order, practical shoes, and modest white bonnet.

“Who are you and how did you become such a great salesperson?” I asked.

“I’m a Yoder,” she said. “We like to talk.”

More like a “Yoda” I thought, as she wrapped up both tongs and half a dozen paring knives.