Kids loved the hiking sticks we sold at the Mercantile. They loved to take the sticks out of the display rack, and they loved to thump them on the wooden floor as they walked through the store.
Sometimes a kid would convince a parent to buy a hiking stick, but usually not. The sticks were pricey–$18 to $25–and most parents realized their kid didn’t hike often enough to make the stick a practical purchase. Most often, a kid had to leave the beloved hiking stick behind.
One day a family came into the store. In addition to Mom and Dad, there were two children who seemed to be boys. The older child was on the brink of being a teenager, while the younger kid was probably nine. Each member of the family was dressed in earth tones and sported at least one piece of camo clothing.
The two children were immediately drawn to the hiking sticks. They both walked right over to the display and began to take one stick after another from the rack as they talked about how cool the sticks were. As soon as the mother saw the price of the first stick, she said no. The woman had no intention of buying even one hiking stick and told the boys to put the sticks back where they belonged.
The older kid complied with his mother’s orders and returned the stick to its place in the rack. The younger boy took his stick of choice with him as he began walking through the store.
He didn’t just carry the stick. Oh no. He was a thumper! With each step he took, he brought the end of the stick down hard onto the wooden floor. Thump! Thump! Thump! reverberated through the Mercantile. His parents didn’t do anything to discourage this behavior.
I took a deep breath and let it out. This kid was getting on my last nerve, but I didn’t really think it was my place to correct him. His parents were standing right there. I though it was their job to reprimand him, not mine.
Then the kid started swinging the stick.
Swinging hiking sticks was another popular activity among young visitors to the the Mercantile. I don’t know where they got the idea that hiking sticks were for swinging. Maybe somebody in the Harry Potter movies fights with a staff or maybe they’re emulating Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings. I don’t know why, but over the course of two summers, I saw many children swinging hiking sticks as tall or taller than they were.
When the boy began swinging the hiking stick I knew his parents had no intention of buying, it was more than I could take. I walked up to the kid, put my hands on the hiking stick, and firmly took it from him while saying what he was doing was improper use of the stick.
Let’s put this away before something gets broken, I said. My concern was valid. There were many fragile knick-knacks in the Mercantile that could have been destroyed with one unfortunate swing of that stick.
When I put my hands on the hiking stick, the boy immediately let go. He didn’t protest or whine. I think it’s a pretty good indication that people know they’re doing wrong when they don’t even protest when confronted.
As I walked past the mother on my way to put away the hiking stick, she murmured Thank you. She sounded exhausted
I gave her a nod and a grim smile. I was glad she was glad for my help and not mad at my interference, but I felt like I was doing her job instead of my own. I thought it was her job to demand her kid follow through after telling him to return the stick to the display rack. I thought it was her job to tell her kid to stop thumping the stick on the floor. I thought it was her job to tell her kid the stick was not meant for swinging, especially in a small, enclosed space housing breakable items. Apparently she thought her job was to browse while her nine-year-old kid did whatever he wanted to do.
Of course, the father figure hadn’t said anything either. It was his job to correct the kid too, so I don’t think only the mother was at fault.
As was so often the theme in my interactions with tourists on that mountain, when they left, I was glad to see them go.
I took the photo in this post.