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23 October, 2011

GOOD OLD HARVEY HELPED EASE THE PAIN OF A VERY COSTLY MISTAKE BY ME THE NOVICE

I think often about people who left a favorablle impression on me as a young lad struggling to make his way in the world.  I have written about two or three of them in past Wrights Lane posts.  Their kindness and caring has served me well and will never be forgotten.  I honor their memory.


For some unknown reason this morning I woke up thinking about a gentleman by the name of Harvey Galloway from my days in the mens' clothing business in the late 1950s. It is easy to remember the cigar-smoking Harvey who was rather gruff on the outside, but a pussy cat on the inside.  He was a natty dresser and a haberdasher of the old school.  He had a knack of beating all of us to 90 per cent of the customers coming through the front door, which accounted for the fact that he would collect commission cheques most months and why the rest of us rarely did. 


It took a while, but Harvey and I developed a genuine liking for each other.  He the 70-year-old mentor and me the 20-year-old novice just starting to get his feet wet in the business. We had some pretty amazing chats, the like of which you would have with a father or favorite uncle.  Harvey and his dear wife never did have children and I think that in some small way I filled a void.


Three of us, Harvey, me and Danny Clibborn, worked regularly on the floor of the Jack Fraser Store in St. Thomas.  Harvey was responsible for the clothing department (suits, sports jackets and overcoats), Danny the work goods section (jeans, overalls, work shirts) and boys wear, while I was in charge of furnishings (dress, shirts, sports shirts, ties, socks, underwear, windbreaker jackets, hats and caps).  We were permitted to sell in all sections of the store, providing the person in charge of the particular department was otherwise occupied.


I took special training in the art of tailoring and was awarded second call in the "clothing" department which is where I found myself one day serving a very short, portly customer who was interested in a made-to-measure suit.  Having selected a cloth sample to his liking, I proceeded to take very careful measurements of his 40-inch chest, 42-inch waist and very short 26-inch leg inseam.  Special care was given his choice of styles for both the coat (wing lapel, two-button doubled breasted) and trousers (no pleats, set side pockets, no cuffs).  The gentleman explained that he generally wore out pants quicker than jackets and that he would like to order two extra pairs of matching trousers to go with his suit.


After the gentleman and his wife left the store, I diligently doubled-checked his made-to-measure order form and duly sent it off to Shiffer-Hillman Tailors in Toronto.


The suit arrived in the customary three weeks time and my customer anxiously came in to try it on.  On exiting the fitting room I was momentarily elated to hear him say that "everything fits just fine -- but I have a problem with the pockets on the pants".  My heart sank to my shoes as a "full top" pocket was revealed and not the "set side" pocket style that I thought I had ticked off on the order form. 


But, sure enough, there it was in black and white on the order form...I had checked off the wrong box.   
Set side pocket

Full slant pocket


Traditionally, the front pocket opening on a pair of dress trousers is a straight up-and-down slit, usually with no or very minimal hemming. This is to reduce its visual impact, hiding the fact that there is a pocket there at all as much as possible. Slanted pockets, particularly with a distinctive hem, are more casual but still appropriate on most trouser *(see accompanying illustrations).  You will almost never see the scooped style of jeans pockets on dress pants, outside of the occasional pair of corduroys or similar dress-casual wear.


Understandably disappointed, the customer said he did not think that he could adjust to the full top pocket, and I had to agree.  Because it was my inadvertent error, I offered to order three more sets of trousers with the correct pocket style and the gentleman agreed.  I then had the unsavory task of explaining to store manager Gordon Fox what had transpired.


Gordon approved the second order but said that I would have to pay for it out of my own pocket.  A $60.00 charge (more than one week's wages) was subsequently added to my staff account and the odd-sized trousers were placed in stock in the hope of selling them to another over-sized midget, if there ever was another.  I suppose I could have kept the trousers myself and worn them in place of peddal-pusher shorts in the summer but I was only a 34-inch waist back then, so that was out of the question. 


Shortly after the pocket debacle, I was called in to head office in Toronto for another 20-month training period.  After that I worked in the Chatham branch store for the better part of a year before being transferred back to St. Thomas again, almost three years later. 


One of the first things I did when arriving back in the St. Thomas store was to rather reluctantly check the pants rack to see if those jinxed three pairs of trousers were still there after all that time, and sure enough they were with the same $29.95 price tags intact.  A costly and ugly reminder of a stupid mistake that I never made again.


Some time later, on a busy Saturday in the store, I overheard Harvey talking to a familiar figure partially hidden behind a coat rack.  It was my old suit customer of three years prior and Harvey was explaining that the man's rejected trousers were still in stock and that he didn't think that it was fair that I had to pay for the replacement order.  "They will fit you perfectly and if nothing else they will make good work trousers for you," Harvey convincingly suggested.  "Tell you what, I think that we would gladly take $30.00 for all three pairs and we'll be doing everybody a favor."  The man said that he had no idea that I would be required to pay for the mistake and readily agreed to the "buy of the century" giving me a sheepish smile and a knowing thumbs up from across the store.  I'll guarantee that's one suit where his coat did not outlast the trousers (all six pairs).


I noticed that Harvey did not ring in the sale and we both went about serving other customers.  At closing time a few hours later that evening, Harvey pushed three $10.00 bills into my shirt pocket.  "Here, this belongs to you young fella.  I always felt bad that you had to pay.  It was not right.  Hope this makes up for some of it."  I thanked my old friend profusely.  I couldn't say much because of a lump in my throat.


After the passing of his wife, Harvey retired but continued to work part-time in the store a few hours a week and spent the last year of his life in a St. Thomas nursing home.  The last time were were together, I was several years removed from the clothing business and he was a guest in my home where my late wife Anne treated him (us) to his favorite roast beef dinner and lemon meringue pie.


It's been a long time, but in reflective moods I still miss old Harvey who went out of his way to ease the discomfort of a costly mistake by a "young fella" who never forgot his kindness.


I still get a lump in my throat too.


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