For the past seven months, it’s gone like this…

Random friend: “Hey, it’s good to see you! It’s been a while.”

Me: “Yes, thank you. We’ve been busy.”

Random friend: “You know, I see your husband at Walmart all the time. He must really love Walmart.”

Me: “Yes, I suppose so.”

As long as I’ve known my husband, his retirement plan has included being a greeter at Walmart. See, he’s a people person; a hand-shaker and high fiver. He loves seeing people he knows and catching up with those he’s not seen in a while. He’s a shameless people watcher–it’s one of his favorite things to do. Airports? Restaurants? Malls? He does not discriminate; he loves them all.

Which is why it has been interesting to live with this secret we have had to keep for well over seven months.

My husband works at Walmart.

My husband has been working at Walmart in Asset Protection. He’s been the guy that sleuths around the store inconspicuously trying to catch shoplifters. If you’ve never met him, the word inconspicuous is a farce. Dude is 6′ with a pretty large frame. He even takes big steps. He’s never been one to blend well. The identities of those in his position and that of his boss’s must be kept secret in order to be able to be undercover in the store. I cannot stress this enough> It’s been quite an interesting journey.

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After he was laid off from the frac sand industry, things got tough. Physically then mentally, our family went through a rough 18-months. I wrote about holding space in October and that’s about the time Rick went back to work full-time, this time in retail–a new industry for him. What we didn’t realize is that retail is, at its heart, a helping profession. This is right up hubs’ alley and he’s missed it. He is a helper of people who has been required to be catcher of people and, needless to say, it’s been difficult at times. He’s had to learn how to approach situations that are risky and immediately create a calm atmosphere. He’s learned what behavior is abnormal and what is not. He’s been called a racist–loudly–and it really bothered him. He’s gotten small doses of people who are struggling and those who are reckless. When you make a citizen’s arrest for a woman shoplifting formula/baby food/diapers and you know it’s because she really needs it, well, that’s a hard day. He’s now on a first name basis with the entire City of Winona Police force.

[This does not surprise me, especially after I listened to this report from Minnesota Public Radio on how the City of St. Paul cannot keep up with the calls from Walmart Asset Protection and is considering not responding. It was October, right after he started in the position.]

 As he settled into the role, his [ahem] clothing choices became more interesting. Instead of his usual button-down dress shirt, khaki’s and leather loafers, he found that a hooded sweatshirt, dirty jeans, sneakers and black backpack was the best combo for remaining unseen. Unseen, that is, to shoplifters, not necessarily upstanding citizens. My absolute least favorite combo was what he called his Sunday outfit: over-sized Arkansas razorback hooded sweatshirt (hooded to disguise the earpiece he had to wear for the radio) and tapered at the ankle sweatpants. Most days, he didn’t even shower before he went to work, unshaven and rough. Other worst dressed scenarios included the Goodwill olive-green wool trench coat and accompanying giant headphones to disguise the earpiece when the weather got warm and the hoodie looked conspicuous.

I’d go in to get groceries and meet him somewhere in the store. He’d be in a ridiculous outfit and I could not imagine why he thought he could be unseen. He explained that to me, this was conspicuous, but to those who typically shoplifted, he was not. In short, sketchy doesn’t see sketchy.  I wasn’t sketchy so I saw him as odd. However, he caught the most shoplifters when he looked the worst so I shut my mouth and found the entire thing utterly fascinating.

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The reason I am able to tell the world his position is because he has been promoted within Walmart. By the time I hit “publish” on this post he will have ended his last day in Asset Protection at our local store. Starting Monday he will be attending a month-long Walmart Academy (who knew?) in preparation for his new position as an Assistant Manager at Walmart in Red Wing, MN. He is very excited about this new opportunity and I’m very excited to have him back on salary and with a weekend off here and there. I remember when he was offered the job originally back in September, I was in the soup aisle (of Walmart, of course) when he called with the news that he’d been hired. The salary was amazingly decent–more than enough to cover our monthly bills and then some. We had been in a tough spot for so long that this news was AMAZING and TIMELY and a true BLESSING. Do I even need to tell you that I cried real tears in the soup aisle?  

I’d never been so thankful to Walmart in my life. A little perspective from my point of view: Walmart is easy prey for business professors and bad examples. Union busting, low wages, low quality, and the peopleofwalmart.com website are often cited in my profession. However, I’ve found the opposite as our time as [insider] people of Walmart. Perhaps it is a store-to-store experience, but my husband was embraced into a strong management team and appreciated for his strengths. He and others are honored as veterans and regularly given opportunities to grow within the company. The wages have been more than fair and the starting salary for a beginning Assistant Manager is more than I made teaching at my last two colleges.

Yes, you just read that.

Perhaps the most touching part of our experience in the Walmart family is how he’s been treated by his local store management. Warm, friendly, hard-working and thoughtful are just some of the words I can apply. They are fun and feisty, too. When hubs was offered the opportunity to apply for the management track, his store manager asked if I was on board. “Because, if she’s not in agreement, it will never work. Make sure you two are on the same page before we go any further.”

When he shared that with me, I sat with open mouth and moist eyes. I mattered and that was a new feeling. You see, a short time ago we were co-pastors at a small local church. When the lead pastor resigned because of a relocation, my husband was asked to step up into the role. Unemployed, not doing well physically and mentally, and trying to build our side business into an income-generating one, I was not in favor. In fact, when asked by the elders, I said a point-blank “no.”

They did it anyway and he crashed and burned in a few short months.

That is why when my opinion mattered and someone in a position of power recognized it, I was dumbfounded. I shed hot-Oprah-like-ugly-tears over it and made Rick tell me again what his boss had said. I may have had him tell me a few times, it meant the world to me. No one was more surprise than me at how visceral a reaction I had to his statement. Since, I’ve started to realize that a giant hole in my heart has started to heal.

Because of Walmart, our family is back on our feet, thriving. No one is more thankful (and surprised) than me.