When I was about five years old, my mother shopped at a little flower and gift shop off the Old Post Road in Connecticut. And she would take me places when she went shopping. And this was a place I liked. It was cool to a five year old like me. It had a fountain and a pond, and flowers and interesting chotchke stuff inside the shop. But to me, the coolest thing was this Indian totem pole. I was fascinated with it. I loved to always go to this shop and see the totem pole by the pond. I could stare at it forever.One day my mother was buying something at the counter from the owner. She leans down to me and whispers, “Ask the man, how much for the totem pole.”
Now I was a very shy kid, and a bit of a loner, and my mother was always trying to break me of that by speaking up, minding my manners, to always say please and thank you. This was scary to me.
But I asked as she kept prodding me.
The man said, “No, I’m sorry it’s not for sale.”
End of discussion for me. I was disappointed after having to build up the courage to talk to this man. A waste of time, I must have been thinking at five years old.
My mother kicked me gently with her foot. I looked up at her.
“Ask him if he’ll take $5 dollars for it.”, she whispered.
Man! She’s going to make me talk to him again? He said it wasn’t for sale. My mom is so pushy, I must have thought.
“Go on.”, she kicked me again.
“Would you take $5 dollars for the totem pole?”, I asked.
“Hmn. Nah. I’m not selling that totem pole. It’s very nice, and means a lot.”, he said.
Crushed twice. What kind of mean and cruel, sadistic mother did I have?
She poked me with her finger.
“Ask if you can have it for $10 dollars, would he sell it?”
Crap. Mom, he said no! Please.
“Ask, Flemming. Wouldn’t you like to have the totem pole?”
I stared silently.
She said, “Go on.”
I reluctantly asked him if he’d take $10 dollars for it.
“Hmn. That’s a really good offer. But it’s really not for sale.”
Done. Okay, mom. We’re done.
The man looked down over the counter at me.
“Like I said, it’s not for sale. But you can have it. It means more to you than me.”, he said.
What did he just say?
“You can have it. I know you really like it.”
“It’s your totem pole, Flemming.”, my mother said.
I was shocked. I was stunned. I was happy.
My mother and I took that little three foot totem pole back to the car.
My mother explained some things to my little five year old brain in that car going back home.
It was something to the effect of this: “Flemming, I don’t want you to be shy. I want you to assert yourself. You will never know what anybody thinks or will say if you don’t ask. And ask politely. The worst thing anybody could ever say is no. And you won’t know, if you don’t ask. Do you understand?”
Yes I do. And I never forgot that lesson my mother gave me.
And to remind myself of that lesson she taught me, I never parted with that little totem pole. I keep it as a reminder.