A 19-year-old employee has to put up with angry reactions to mask-wearing requirements
By George Valadie
She’s just a kid. I don’t mean that as any sort of insult, not in any way. In fact, she’s as mature a young lady as I’ve known. I’d trust her with my car, my keys, or my kids.
The more telling tale is that my wife trusts her with our pups, which should tell you all you need to know about this particular teen.
But she is just 19. True, old enough to drive and vote, old enough to marry and be a mom.
And while some females that age have done all those things and more, she’s not there yet.
She’s just a kid. And she ought to get to be one.
Soon to start her second year of college, she’s doing what many young people her age have done, trying to make a few bucks, holding down multiple summer jobs while also taking a couple of summer courses to get ahead. What free time she has gets spent at the lake with her friends.
She comes to mind because one of those jobs she has is in retail. She works in a cupcake store.
I know it’s not Disney World or anything, you can’t exactly call it the happiest place on earth, but I mean, really, who doesn’t love a good cupcake, not to mention a store full of nothing but?
It sure seems like it’s the kind of store where smiles should abound.
“When we first got to open back up after having been shut down, people were so nice. They were excited to get out. People seemed really happy to be anywhere but cooped up in their homes.”
But alas, the numbers didn’t do what we hoped the numbers would do. And as a response to the resulting pandemic backslide, our local authorities issued a recent decree that masks would be required throughout the county.
Making the job she once enjoyed not nearly as much fun anymore.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but do you have a mask?”
“That’s OK, we have one we can give you.”
“I’m sorry, but it’s a policy. Everyone has to wear a mask to come in.”
“You can’t tell me what to do. My body, my choice!”
“I know it’s an inconvenience, but it’s our policy”
“I’m not wearing one, and you can’t make me.”
Things never got any better—not her language, not her behavior, and certainly not the ambience of the store for others waiting their turn.
Apparently, she’s not been the only such customer. It’s a small specialty store, limited square footage, and like many such shops, there’s a need to limit the number of customers that can enter at any one time.
“I’m sorry, sir, but we can only have four customers in here at once.”
“What?! There’s six of us!”
“I understand, but it’s small store. We’re happy to provide menus and then bring whatever you’d like outside.”
“That’s insane. We’re not buying a thing!”
She’s a former student; I’m her former principal; she admitted she was giving me the cleaned-up version of what her days have really been like.
“I can’t tell you how mean people have been. One guy acted like he was going to charge behind the counter because we wouldn’t serve him. I don’t make the rules. I didn’t create the virus. I’m just trying to serve some people some cupcakes.
“But they don’t care. Not about us. Not about other customers. I don’t get it.”
“How can people act that way?”
Can you believe it? She’s just a kid! But truthfully, what difference should that make?
“How can people act that way?”
Sadly, I had no good answer. Not sure there is one.
Thankfully, and prayerfully, she and her co-workers have avoided the violence that this same scenario has evoked in other locales.
Arguments that became fights. Guns pulled, shots fired, lives ended. What in the world is going on?
No good answer for that either.
I relate her story because here’s the thing: we’re getting ready to restart school, and on any given day we will find ourselves hosting a sporting event of one sort or another.
And it’s at that moment we will become exactly like her store—requiring visitors we don’t know to wear a mask they may not like.
Our state athletic association recently released the rules and regulations we must implement on site. I support them. After all, on most days, I’m the oldest guy in the building living life in the pretty-darn-susceptible category. If we can make people safer, count me in.
All fans must have their temperatures taken; all fans must wear masks; all fans must sit in socially distanced seats. But we won’t know all the fans.
Our students will get it, our moms and dads will get it. It’s not that they’ll all love it, I don’t. But they’ll get it. Everyone else? Well, it’s her tragic tale of life in a cupcake store that gives me pause.
Like most high schools, our entrance gates are traditionally manned by volunteers. Moms and dads willing to give their time, often missing their kids in action, donating a service to benefit our school. We couldn’t make it without them.
Will they have to endure what she has experienced? How do we protect them from such? How do we save them from such?
No, they’re not kids. I’m just not sure it will make a difference.
How can people act that way?
Dear God—You’re good at miracles; we seem to be in need. Soon! Amen.
George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.