Thursday, September 17, 2015

Your Five-Minute Best Friend by Betsy Ashton

We all know what BFFs are. They're those dear friends who are with us no matter what. We may have known them since elementary school, or they may have entered our lives more recently. We all have at least one. What I'm talking about here is a best friend who shows up exactly when you need her and then disappears.

These best friends find you in a time of need. Maybe you've slipped and fallen. This BF helps you up, sits with you for a few minutes to be sure you are all right, offers to call your family. Maybe even gives you a hug before going on her way. I bet if something like this happened to you, you haven't forgotten that five-minute kindness.

Back when I was commuting, I had a five-minute BF every morning. I rode the Hudson line of Metro-North into New York City daily for eleven years. For that decade and a year, Ralph was my conductor on the morning run. Tall, maybe 50+, with a smile that lit up the darkest and coldest winter mornings. He moved with a practiced rocking gait as the train pitched and yawed down tracks that should have been replaced years earlier. He had his own patter when we flashed out monthly passes.

"Thank you."
"Thank you, miss."
"Thank you, ma'am."

A bare "thank you" was reserved for all the men whose noses were buried in papers. "Thank you, miss" was for younger women, whose noses may or may not have been buried in papers. "Thank you, ma'am" was reserved for women of a certain age, one Ralph never explained.

I waited eagerly every morning for my smile and greeting. I looked forward to it. The regular commuters made sure to tell Ralph if they were going to be away for more than a few days. He had a tendency to worry and ask if you knew the woman you always sat with was all right. And when he had a vacation planned, he let us know.

We came to know about his children and grandchildren. We know what kind of car he drove. And yet not one of us thought to ask him about the difference between "miss" and "ma'am."

I was in my tenth year of the commute when things changed. Now, understand, please. My looks hadn't changed all that much since my first day on Metro-North. I'd had silvery gray hair when I arrived. I weighed plus-or-minus five pounds over the ten years.

One morning, the fateful day arrived. Ralph smiled at me and said, "Thank you, ma'am." My seatmate gasped. I gasped. People around me gasped. Ralph didn't. He rolled his way up the car, oblivious to the turmoil he'd caused.

That winter day was the day Ralph ceased to be my BF. Forever.


Betsy Ashton is the author of Mad Max, Unintended Consequences, and Uncharted Territory, A Mad Max Mystery, now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


Jannine Gallant said...

Hysterical, Betsy! You should have tripped him at the very least! But, I'm afraid that Miss to Ma'am time happens to all of us. Kind of like the first time you don't get carded when the sign clearly says you'll be carded if you look under 30 and think, "Oh my God, how old do I look?" Thanks for the chuckle.

Margo Hoornstra said...

My laugh for the day, Betsy, thank you. I still remember the first time I was called ma'am was by a bag boy at the grocery store - and I was not yet thirty! The exact memory of that day remains with me still. Like you, my response was an audible gasp. Now I get the senior discount without even asking for it and my response is "Well, bless your heart!"

Brenda Whiteside said...

Ditto. You started my day off with a good chuckle.

Betsy Ashton said...

I'm glad I brought smiles to your faces. It was a funny story. And true. Sometimes, though, our 5-minute best friends show up when we are in times of stress. Just didn't want to write about that. Enough downer stuff on the news without me adding to it. *she grins*

Leah St. James said...

Well, you topped off a long day at the "paycheck job" with a chuckle for me, Betsy. Great story. :-)

Rolynn Anderson said...

Ralph is toast! I'm in France right now and I am 'madame.' I haven't heard one woman called 'mademoiselle', but maybe that's because all of those who can afford to eat in restaurants (or be tourists) are 'of a certain age.' Makes me wonder, too, Betsy

Ashantay said...

Great story! I remember being taught that anyone under thirty was "miss" and over was "ma'am." Luckily, I now live in the South, where you can just say"honey" and no one bats an eyelash.

Diane Burton said...

Wonderful story, Betsy.