By Lisa Sugarman
I love my in-laws. No, for real. I do. And while I know that sounds odd, it’s true. They’re very loveable. And until they retired to Florida about ten years ago, my cute little in-laws owned and operated a traditional “Mom & Pop” variety store on the Lynn/Saugus line. You know, cigarettes, lottery, magazines. They owned it for over twenty years, and the thing I remember my mother-in-law saying most often about why they loved The Store so much was that owning it allowed them to make lots of good friends in little places.
Now I hope that none of their “little-place” friends are offended reading this. That would actually be awful for me. See, if someone were to get mad at my mother-in-law that would cause a huge ripple effect that would ultimately make her mad at me. And that would be bad. Because the last thing I need is for my mother-in-law to be mad at me, especially when we have such a good relationship. Actually, the last thing anyone needs is for their mother-in-law to be mad at them. In almost 28 years as a Sugarman, that’s almost never happened to me. There was a minor toilet seat incident about 20 years ago, but that was completely my fault. (Did you hear that, Ma? I was wrong. It was completely my fault.)
So you need to understand that when she says “friends in little places,” she means it in absolutely the best possible way. She means everyday, regular people doing everyday jobs that make a beautiful and profound impact on us and our daily lives. It’s people like educators and policemen, firefighters and nurses, contractors and sales clerks. All the hardworking folks you see every day whose daily contributions make a big impact on our quality of life.
They’re people like my school’s crossing guard Tom, who goes above and beyond, rain or shine, 180 days of the school year, to make sure our kids get safely from their minivans into school every morning. Doing it in the kindest possible way. And even though Tom’s job might seem simple in the grand scheme of jobs—especially when you stack it up next to, oh, I don’t know, a neuropsychologist—to the kids and parents who adore him he means everything. He’s got everybody’s back and is so humble and watchful and sincere that you can’t help but feel like your kids are in the best possible hands once they hit that crosswalk every morning. Not to mention that if someone loses something on their way into school, Tom’s your guy. You have no idea how many dropped iPods and boots and books and hats he’s reunited with their kid owners. And to a busy parent with little or no time to go on reconnaissance in the Lost & Found box, this is of supreme value.
Or like Rick, our custodian at school, who has this knack for anticipating what everyone needs even before we know we need it ourselves. Like when the heel of my shoe separated from the sole and the only thing I needed at that exact moment in time was Gorilla Glue. And there he was, Gorilla Glue in hand. Ready to save my day. A lot like a real, bonafide superhero. Because who knows the kind of hip dysplasia that may have set in if I had been forced to walk on a broken heel all day. I may never have been the same. Thanks, Superman.
Or the guy at the meat counter at Wholefoods who saves you the last shank bone for your Passover Seder plate when everyone else in town is out. Love that guy. Saved the whole holiday. It’s the receptionist at the doctor’s office who calls in that emergency Z-pack that your husband desperately needs before he leaves the country on business. Never mind the fact that he has the ear canals of a seven-year-old boy, he still needed the drugs.
And one other group of unsung heroes who always stuck in my mind were the lobster fishermen who were regulars in my in-laws’ store. It was because of them that we ate like royalty every Fourth of July, enjoying dozens (and I mean dozens) of fresh lobsters that they would just give to my mother-in-law straight off the boat. Because of them, our Independence Day was always like a medieval feast, minus the organized jousting.
Even Garth Brooks wrote a song about these kinds of friends. Although, come to think of it, his was called Friends in Low Places. And now that I really think about it, I think it had way more to do with people who drink lots of whiskey and beer than what I’m talking about. So maybe that doesn’t exactly support what I was saying, but at least some of the words were the same.
Bottom line is, the older I get, the more I realize that it’s my friends in little places who are among the most significant in my life. And while they may not be the ones curing cancer or developing tooth regeneration technology or sustainable fusion reactors, they have a powerful impact on my life. So remember, treasure your friends in little places because they are among your most valuable. And never, ever piss off your mother in law. (I’m honestly not sure which piece of advice is more important.)