Diamond in the Rough: Do you know a place where you can find history, thread, embroidery floss, school supplies, lampshades, Tupperware or any other random knick-knack? I do. It's a place unlike any other, or it used to be. Buckingham Variety store, more commonly known as Buckingham's, was such a place. Yet this story begins at another store where I first encountered the woman who would help shape who I am today. I have lived in the hamlet of Oyster Bay my entire life; everything was familiar and nothing was special. The town held little excitement until a unique store came out of nowhere, a sparkling gem, alien to a town that never changes. The gleam from the gem was not the light dancing upon its precious contents of amber and crystal, but from its owner, Claire. Her curly black hair artfully intertwined with slim streaks of grey tumbled softly down her shoulders, and her deep brown eyes shone with the reflection of her wares, and all of her features were balanced perfectly against her dark olive skin. The extravagant jewelry she sold and her striking Greek beauty were the sparkling lure which enticed me through the door, but her bright smile was the catalyst for the most meaningful friendship of my life. Unfortunately Claire's generosity, discounts, and lack of customers caused the closure of her store. I was heartbroken at the thought of how little I would see Claire. Thankfully, Claire did not delay in moving on. Buckingham's, one of the town's relic stores, became Claire's new home, and I wanted to move in too. I applied to work there the summer after eight grade, and it became my first real job. At this point in my life, responsibility meant cleaning my room and doing homework; was I ready to take on more? My mind raced and my hands shook, but the prospect of working with Claire and earning money for myself left no room for doubt in my mind. I was ecstatic I had found a job, and I knew for sure I was going to have fun. There are too many experiences to list that occurred in that one little store, from interesting customers to Claire's little boy and girl who lived beneath the forest of merchandise. Her children were viewed as destructive by most, but I discovered the fault in that assumption. They were the most creative and passionate children I had ever encountered, and they made everything come alive (though they did occasionally break things in their imaginative rampage). Each memory from that store holds significant value to me. Yes, I learned how to deal with money, run a cash register, do inventory, and so on, but that was cake compared to dealing with people. I always tried to keep a smile on my face and a gentle tone in my voice, no matter how rude the customer. I had never known the ugliness that the world could throw at me, whether it be a wandering drunk, a flip-flop obsessed man, or a woman with a tongue of ice. Claire helped me learn how to manage all of these different characters, as well as help them. A friendly hello or acknowledgement of remembrance was priceless for some of the customers, and just knowing I had made their day a little brighter, mine was too. People skills can only be gained through experience, and Claire gave me that chance, so it was only fair that she should get a chance at a better life as well. I knew that she was overqualified for the position of a store manager, so when a new opportunity opened up for her, I had to watch her go. When I was alone, tears streamed down my face. I was selfish; I didn't want her to leave. Buckingham's wouldn't, no couldn't, be the same without her. Inner turmoil boiled inside me. I wanted her to stay, but I knew that she deserved more. I was happy for her; she had found a job that she wanted, one where she could make a difference. Both the emotions of joy and sadness that overcame me were the result of her effect on my life. I am who I am because of her. She was the reason I took a chance that I would have never taken if she had not existed. Inside those walls is where I grew. I got a second family, my heart was broken by my first real crush, I saved up to buy my very own electric Parker guitar, my imagination was expanded, I learned trust and respect, my confidence blossomed, and I was no longer invisible. The spark Claire had created left with her. Buckingham's is still there, but its life is hanging by a thread. Yet Claire's influence on my life is something no one can take from me. Those memories are my precious gems, more valuable than any diamond or sapphire.
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