When Joel first started working where he has for the last four years it was a good hour or two commute from where we lived. I was unemployed at the time so I did a lot of sitting around the house, watching tv. (sound familiar?)

One day for some reason (either I was bored or we had somewhere to be right after he got off work) I went with him to the little town where he works. It’s an adorable little town and while he was working I walked around and explored. While exploring, I wandered past this cute little toy store. What drew me to it was the beautiful display of Madame Alexander dolls in the window. I thought how fun it would be to work in a little toy store like that.

As the thought went through my mind I noticed the help wanted sign in the window. I took it as a sign that I was meant to work there. I walked in, filled out an application and not long after I was hired. It wasn’t a high paying job but because Joel already commuted out there for his job I just rode along. Even though it was retail they gave me a Monday through Thursday 9-4 schedule so that it coordinated with Joel’s work. We even got to eat lunch together every day.

It was one of my favorite jobs ever. I was basically playing with toys for a living. If we got a new craft I got to try it so that I would be able to recommend it to customers. A new Lego set? I got to put it together. Vendors actually send kits specifically for that purpose! One day I spent my entire shift figuring out a Rubik’s cube.

Other days I’d have to rearrange stuffed animals, straighten shelves or set up displays. Breaking down boxes was about the most intense the job got physically. I also got to wrap presents for customers. It was a dream. Not to mention the ladies that I worked with were wonderful. Since it was small place there were only five other employees. We talked and laughed and had so much fun. I don’t ever remember thinking I didn’t like my job there. Not once.

Photo credit : Erica Benson

The owner was a prominent man in the community. He was an older gentleman so he didn’t spend a ton of time at the store anymore. He was one of those white haired, grumpy looking old men. Despite his grumpy exterior he was a very generous, good employer. He also didn’t act old for a minute. He traveled all over the world on a regular basis. From China to Brazil to Europe and everywhere in between. I feel like the year I worked there he spent more time on trips than at the store. He was past the age most people retire though so it was well deserved.

Around Christmas time was the best time to work at the store. People would come in and make massive purchases. I’m talking hundreds of dollars worth of toys. Then we’d bag them, label them with their name and address and store them in our basement. We’d later wrap them and then on Christmas Eve they would be delivered to their house. We were seriously Santa Claus.

The only thing about working there in the winter time was the owner was obsessed with keeping the sidewalks clear in the front and back of his store. In case you weren’t aware, in Chicagoland in the winter? It snows. A lot. We constantly had to go out and shovel and salt things down. If the smallest layer of ice was left he was very unhappy about it. Even if it was still snowing we had to go out and shovel things.

I could have worked at that store forever but in April of ’07 I was offered my job as a flight attendant. Since being a flight attendant was my dream job the choice was obvious. I was still sad about leaving. It was just such a great place to work.

Not very long after I left, the owner sold the store. It remained a toy store much the same as it was before but he was free to travel and live out his retirement without worrying about running a business. It seemed like it was going to be a great thing for him and his wife. They even were high mileage members on my airline so I always hoped to have them on one of my flights.

Unfortunately that never happened. This past winter he was going to a Bible study at church. He slipped on some ice on the stairs and hit his head. Because it wasn’t a busy time they’re not sure how long he lay there before he was found. He never regained consciousness. It’s so bitter and ironic that something he was so insistent about was what killed him. It’s just unfair. He was a good boss and a great man. He was well loved and is very much missed.

I was reminded of all this because tonight they dedicated a street sign to him today. We missed the ceremony (don’t ask) but it brought him back into my mind. He lived his life making children and people happy. I will always remember him as one of my most favorite bosses.