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Why I’m sorry for judging a convenience store clerk

There was just something about the woman behind the counter. She had worried eyes and a tired smile. I suspected the reason her smile was exhausted had nothing to do with using it all the time, it was just tired of lying.
Jason Wright, Deseret News Modified: July 21, 2014 at 10:00 pm •  Published: July 22, 2014
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There was just something about her.

The woman behind the Handy Mart counter had worried eyes and a tired smile. I suspected the reason her smile was exhausted had nothing to do with using it all the time. It was just tired of lying.

It was 6:40 a.m. in the quiet convenience store and I’d just dropped off my daughter at early-morning church seminary. I’d planned to buy a newspaper and enjoy a donut and juice before returning to pick her up at 7:30 for the ride to school. And, because I’m a serial talker, I’d hoped to chat with whomever might be working or simply passing through the combination gas station and Dunkin' Donuts.

I paid for my breakfast and decided to try to pry a smile with a joke that was outrageously funny in my head, but in the real world? Not so much. The clerk, Cheri Romick, grinned anyway, wished me a good day and returned to her routine.

I went back a couple times a week for several months and was met with the same polite but disconnected smiles and the obligatory, “Thank you,” and, “Come again.” No matter the hour and whether I was alone or with my crazy kids, her mood never seemed to change.

One morning, after a long trial and after examining the evidence, I appointed myself judge and issued a verdict. “She’s just not very friendly,” I decided. “Plus, she’s grumpy and definitely not a morning person. Oh, and she probably hates her job, too.”

And so, with judgment in hand, I moved on.

Though I’d given up on Romick, by then I’d become friends with the other employees and continued visiting the store. The others were kind, engaging and funny, and despite the occasional presence of their perpetually miserable coworker, I enjoyed stopping by.

Then one morning as I filled a fountain drink, the manager came over to say hello and to wipe down a nearby counter. I sidled up next to her and, noticing that Romick apparently had the day off, finally addressed my curiosity. “So, tell me about Cheri? She sure doesn’t seem very happy. What’s her deal? She’s never been very friendly.”

The manager lowered her eyes and put her hand on my arm. “You don’t know?”

“I guess not,” I thought, and the lump in my throat quickly became a pit in my stomach.

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