THRESHING THE WHEAT FROM THE CHAFF

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Whatever happened to that old adage, 'The customer's always right'? If you want insults, accusations and threats just pay your credit card bills on-time and in-full.

Of late we have been very distressed. We had all our Montgomery Ward bills paid up ahead of time and even a few cents overpaid. Then, all of a sudden we began getting insults in the mail from the big Montgomery Ward combine. The letters accused us of defaulting in our payments. 'Pay this overdue $14.41 debt, or we will sue you in court,' said several of the letters.

The fact is we had owed around $87 and some cents. But we had promptly sent a check, weeks before, amounting to $88 an overpayment of some thirty cents, just to be sure the entire bill was covered. For which we got no credit.

The following week several more letters arrived, all claiming we owed the $87 plus no credit for having paid that bill. The local area M W Credit Department was shocked that we were being so accused. They told us to supply our payment receipt and a photo-stat copy of the returned bank check which we did. These they sent to the Chicago office of N W, just to prove we were good, paid-up customers. The credit department lady even sent along a letter, strongly defending us and deploring the insults we were receiving, as good customers, from their head office.

Since we were interested in buying a new mattress, on sale at the Piqua M W store, we were assured our credit was so good that we could go ahead and purchase said mattress, as surely all things would soon be cleared up at the main offices.

The following week we again received the usual insults. In the same mail arrived two letters one ordering us to 'pay up' right away or be sued. The other letter was from a lawyer, already suing us for an even larger amount of over $147. Paid up customers being accused as 'dead-beats' and sued before proven guilty. We were not even given time to answer and clarify ourselves.

We showed these to the Piqua M W credit department. The head lady was furious. Everyone defended us as the best of customers. We asked if it was possible to talk personally, by phone with the head office. The lady dialed for us and gave us the phone. My wife tried to ask questions. She kept saying, 'Will you let me explain our side?' But the office wouldn't listen. Finally my wife said, 'I'll just turn you over to my husband.'

I found I was talking to a P. Coleman the writer of all our insulting, threatening letters. But, instead of a gruff executive, I was talking to a very feminine sounding, but frustrated secretary. I told her, 'We are getting very tired of receiving all these insulting, threatening letters. Do you insult your paid-up customers as a practice?'

The diatribe got pretty hot. Finally the voice said, 'Will you let me explain?' I answered, 'Go ahead.'

Her reply was that they had just finally received the copy of our canceled check, that day, but, since they hadn't received the original check there, the Piqua store would have to pay them that amount

Then I told her we were so insulted we felt we had better pull out of M W altogether. And she replied, 'Well, I think you should have quit buying from us, too.'

'But,' I continued, 'We did go ahead and purchase a new mattress, on sale last week.'

She snapped back, 'Why did you do that?'

'The Piqua store told us our credit was good, and that we were perfectly welcome to buy the mattress,' I replied.

The secretary retorted, 'Oh all they were interested in was selling another mattress to make their quota.'

When I turned to our credit department lady and explained what the gal had said, she grabbed the phone and began talking to the Chicago office. But the Chicago secretary, our accuser, hung up on her.

No sooner had she hung up, than the office phone rang back. It was a 'Miss K,' who explained she would try and see what could be done to straighten out the matter.

But the following week I received a registered letter from Montgomery Ward in Chicago. I felt it might be an apology and didn't wish to keep our mail man waiting. I told him, as I signed it, that I hoped it wasn't another insult or another notice of being sued from Wards.

He replied, 'Are you having trouble too? We had to pull out from Wards, here in Greenville, as they were so mixed up they never did send anything we ordered.'

My wife said I shouldn't have signed for the registered letter. That we should have just refused it.

We didn't open that letter, but we did hold it up and read it before a light. It was not the apology we had hoped for. But another accusation, saying, 'We asked you in two different letters to return your credit cards so they could be destroyed.'

This they had never mentioned in any letter. We resolved not to waste an 8-cent stamp trying to prove our innocence, or press our case further. The Constitution provides that a man is 'innocent until proven guilty.' But Wards pronounced us guilty and sued us after we had proven ourselves innocent with both the photo-stats and the backing of their own Piqua Store personnel.

Now, why does one mention such things in this column? We don't enjoy re-hashing the unpleasant. The mental torture of being accused when innocent seems to be a part of our lives, these days not only on a local scale, but a national one too. And, such conduct, internationally, is what leads to wars while so many of the innocent suffer.

Time was when a farmer could purchase a steam traction engine and threshing rig with nothing more than a promise by way of a hand-shake or a word. The spoken word was a man's honor. His signature was not required in triplicate. There were no vast files revealing the personal credit risks of every individual in the United States and/or the rest of the world. Today the unerring computer is supposed to 'know everything, do everything' without ever making a mistake. But let some office 'cutie' happen to press the wrong button, while lighting up her Virginia Slim, and you've had it. Though you may be paid up and innocent as Mary's Little Lamb, you will soon be receiving a barrage of computer-stamped letters from the head office, making you out a 'dead-beat' and getting sued by some far-off city legal beagle both arriving in the same day's mail. Don't worry if their 'facts 'n figures' don't tally for the right hand never knows what the left hand doeth. And you might as well save your breath and your postage trying to clear your fine record by answering back. Your name and mine doesn't mean anything. We are only a number, stacked somewhere in the dark confines of some impersonal, computerized office. The Bible long ago said, 'In that day each man will carry a number on his head.'

The 'office sweetie' may call you all kinds of names and accuse you of being the dead-beat, 'between draws on her 'Little Winchester' '. And it doesn't matter a tinker if your feel innocent and have proof of being 'paid-up'. That doesn't call off the wolves. You'll still be called a 'dirty character'.

We're living in a day when paying by cash is considered almost a sin. I remember the story told by Sam Schnurr, one of Spark Plugs. 'My old Willys stopped along the road,' said Sam. 'I realized she had come to the end of her days, so I just coasted off the highway and parked it.'

'I saw a Ford dealer up the road, so I just walked up and looked over his cars,' chuckled Sam. 'I told the salesman I'd take the little Falcon station wagon. When I began peeling out twenty $100-bills, I thought that salesman was going to faint, he shook so at seeing all that cash.'

And did you hear the one where the lady said, 'I'll pay cash,' and the gal at the shopping center cash register answered, 'Do you have an credit references?'

Or how about Gene Williams who makes the doll furniture at the midwest threshing reunions? Says Gene, 'I went to a Ford dealer in Delphos, Ohio, to buy a truck chassis to build a trailer on for going to the shows. But when the dealer found out I was going to pay cash for it, he replied, 'Sorry, I can't sell for cash. Only credit. I had to hunt a dealer who would take cash.' So, if they don't want your cash, but insist you buy on credit, we think it's high time the credit department gives 'credit where credit is due'.

And one point more. We feel that credit department personnel should all be required to take courses in Human Relations with special stress on such subjects as 'How NOT To Insult Our Paid-Up Customers.'

All of which reminds us that some of the old-fashioned methods of buying 'n selling weren't so outdated after all. The country store clerk was always glad to see you come to his door. And he always told you to 'Come back'. Besides, the old vinegar barrel smelled mighty good, the fresh-ground coffee you couldn't resist, and you always had to back up to the red-hot pot-bellied stove to warm your backside long enough to hear the latest gossip. 'Bout how so-and-so did such-and-such. 'I swear it's the Gospel Truth,' was the seal-of-honest-reporting in that day. But nowadays you can get your character and soul blasted over international Telstar just by the say-so of 'some reliable source'.

Though the proverbial neighborhood gossip may have a sharp and ruthless tongue in his or her head, one usually could get some friends to listen to his own defense. Not so today when they grind your character through an endless maze of computerized numbers, or pulverize you by way of international T.V.

The Bible calls it a sin to malign a person behind his back. Go first to a brother who has wronged you. And if he listens and asks forgiveness, then forgive him.

'Behold, if a man wrongs you seventy and seven times, and asks thy forgiveness, forgive him,' said Jesus. 'For, if you do not forgive others, your Father in Heaven will not forgive you.'

If you recall, The Lord's Prayer states very firmly,. .. 'And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.'

One version translates it, 'Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.' (King James Version.) But the Presbyterians prefer, 'Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.'

I think, in the latter the Scotch could teach Montgomery Ward a thing or two. Maybe they could sell them a Presbyterian Bible, but they'd have to pay CASH!