Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Walnut Inventory

Walnut Inventory

It’s surprising sometimes how one small event – a turn of phrase, a sound, a smell can bring back a flood of memories. Not always good ones to be sure. You can bet, however, if they are about something that was done to us, the person who did them never walks down the street grimacing about what they did.

Sometimes the memories are pleasant ones. Sometimes they are just though provoking.

This morning at breakfast Mother Superior turned to me and said “I am sorry there were not walnuts for the oatmeal” – something she always adds. But dear mom, God rest her soul, would have said never look a gift horse in the mouth, and never complain about a meal someone else is willing to make for you. Eat it and be happy. The fortunate thing about Mother Superior’s cooking is that it is always wonderful. But that is a blessing in disguise (as my waistline currently, sagging-ly shows) The memories this particular word, walnuts, evoked, is something that was once said by a visitor to the convent.

This particular visitor was a relative of one of the sisters. He had a habit of treating nuns like he treats employees. Despite the fact that he is not, obviously, a nun himself, nor does he live in the convent. He has offered advice on lo’ so many things. In this particular case he saw the walnuts that Mother Superior keeps to add to food and told her…

“You aren’t managing your walnut inventory here.”

Now where this a receiving dock of someplace like the Nestles Corporation I might understand the phrase. But this is the kitchen of a convent we are talking about here.

At this point a word of explanation is in order. For those of you who may not have a background in business there are two ways to handle inventory. Those ways are called LIFO (last in first out) and FIFO (First in first out). I won’t go into what they mean. I will just point out they are two ways corporations with factories and warehouses handle there massive inventories. So I told you that to tell you this…

So the next day, after said visitor has left, Mother Superior tells me of this little even. Without missing a beat I looked at her and said “Should we handle our walnuts LIFO or FIFO.” Mother Superior also has a business background and burst out laughing. Yes, it is a had to be there sort of thing.

But the remarkable thing to me is, just how usual this sort of behavior is. I often see people who treat business associates like good buddies and family like dogs. Well, perhaps I should rephrase that – at the convent we treat our dogs very well thank you. So I will say “Treat family like dirt.”

My grandfathers brother was the same way, only with his military background. The thing is, he was universally abusive. He treated everyone like a “slick sleeve” private in the midst of basic training. (And believe me, drill sergeants in basic training SPECIALIZE at treating people with abuse). Grandfather once took his brother to “his country club”.
“His” of course only in the sense that he went there on a regular basis to play golf; and country club only in the sense that it was a nice place owned by the local park district with a large dining area and bar. When grand father (actually step grandfather – an important distinction for those of you who have read my column before).

When grand father took his brother to the bar, his brother offered buy a round of drinks for everyone in the bar. However, his brother was such an instantly abrasive man that no one in the bar, and I mean NO ONE would take a drink from him. When people won’t even drink free booze, THAT my friends is one abusive person.

But sometimes that particular cover is not like what the book is on the inside. I worked with someone once, long before I was a nun, and long before I found God (after all He always knew where I was). He was a “full bird colonel” in the military as they say. He was retired, and still in the active reserves at the time. I remember back then asking someone in management, in a rather flippant manner I am afraid, if I would have to salute him when he came in to work in the morning (he was, after all, to be one of my direct line supervisors). In the end, however, this particular person left the military in the military. He treated his employees with respect and valued their opinions. When I was the acting supervisor, he called me in to listen to the job interviews in for two new openings in my department. Not only did he listen to my opinion, he hired the individuals I recommended.

In the end, there are two lessons to be learned here. As trite as the adage may be, the first one is to “never judge a book by its cover”. The second lesson, and perhaps the most important one, is to always treat your family like your best friends in the world, and NEVER give them “the business”.

Julie Whitefeather

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