“What do you mean they don’t want baked potatoes? If I’m getting out of bed when it’s still “frickin’” dark outside to bake both the pecan and the pumpkin pies, because they can never agree on just one, and then spend all day making them a 5 1/2 lb salted prime rib and a spiraled honey ham that I paid fifty three “frickin” dollars for, then I can “darn” well have “frickin” baked potatoes if I so “darn” well please. You tell them to bring their own “frickin” sweet potatoes. “
It was Christmas Eve morning and the woman in the produce section of the grocery store was obviously upset. Those of us shopping near her could hear every word of her side of the cell phone conversation. No one wanted to make eye contact with her. No one dared to confront her and ask her to tone down either the volume of her voice or her choice of language. We were much too afraid of her.
On aisle 4, as I paused to check the fiber content of a new cereal, a 4 year old boy near me grabbed a box of Lucky Charms and ran up to his mother. “Oh no, honey,” she said, “We can’t buy that cereal. Here, I've already got you a box of Cheerios.”
“But mommy, “the boy questioned with a whine, “We always get Lucky Charms!! Why can’t I get Lucky Charms?”
“Because, I said so. Now put those back and be a good little boy and be quiet so mommy can finish her shopping.” the mother pleaded.
“But mommy that’s not fair!” The boy yelled. “We always get Lucky Charms. I don’t like Cheerios. I want Lucky Charms! Why can’t we get Lucky Charms?”
The mother grabbed the Lucky Charms out of the boy’s hands and stuffed them firmly back on the shelf. She grabbed the boy by the shoulders and pulled him close. In a firm, controlled voice she instructed the boy in his ear, “You may not get Lucky Charms because Grandma and Grandpa are coming to visit in 3 hours, 33 minutes and…um… 47 seconds! I want them to think that I’m a good mother. I don’t want them to know that I allow you to eat Lucky Charms. I don’t want them to know that you eat ravioli, cold, straight out of the can, in front of the TV. I don’t want them to know that the only “fruit” you eat are Curious George fruit snacks. And I don’t want them to know that you eat chicken nuggets 5 nights a week for dinner! “ And with a dripping sarcasm she added, “So be a good boy and help mommy finish her shopping so we can go home and greet those fine people who raised me and we can all be one big happy family.”
As I turned my cart, a few corners down, in search of some frozen blueberries, I overheard the woman’s heavy accent. She grabbed the woman next to her and pleaded. “You must tell her not to bring him! Father will be so dishonored. Why does she always have to do this? She’s going to ruin everything…again.”
“But she LOVES this one! I don’t see why she can’t bring him.” the pulled woman replied. “Besides, it’s not like he’s a criminal or anything. Who cares if they want to sleep in the same room?”
“It will kill mama. Papa will never allow it. Christmas will be an argument. There will be no true happiness.”
Having tossed my blueberries into the cart, as well as a few other treats not on my list, I found myself in the bakery. I grabbed my bread and then passed through the wine department on my way to the checkout stands. And that is where I saw the “frickin” baked potato woman from the produce department. She had 3 bottles of wine in her cart. She paused under the large sign advertising a 10% discount if you buy 6 bottles of wine. And then her cell phone rang. She answered it. She listened. She became enraged. “What the “heck” do you mean they can’t come until 7? Tell me again, Bob, why it is we decided to have these ungrateful children? Tell me…. WHY!?!?” And with that she grabbed the convenient 6 pack carrier for wine bottles and filled it up.
In the checkout lane I perused Britney’s latest shenanigans and Christina’s pregnancy shopping trips and Mathew McConaughey’s amazing abdominal photos. And then the checker shook me back to suburbia by asking, “Paper or plastic?” We spoke of how busy the store was. We spoke of the weather. And then, we spoke of the holiday season. Neither of us was brave enough to mutter the word “Christmas” for fear of offending the potentially non believing person across from us. But we did speak of the holiday season in general as she rang up my $201.43 holiday purchase. As I was leaving she said to me, “Enjoy the holiday season, won’t you? It’s such a happy time of year!”
I loaded my groceries into my car, returned my cart to the cart return cage and drove away. I was thinking of what I needed to make for the in-laws’ visit. I was thinking of what I needed to do before Santa came that evening. I was thinking that I was glad I wasn’t as stressed as that swearing baked potato lady or the cereal mom or the sister in the frozen foods. I was thinking that the husband just might have stolen my new Eagles CD for his car. I was thinking about what I needed for Christmas breakfast the next morning.
I rapidly looked left and then right as I pulled out to cross the road. There was no cross traffic. I pressed the gas and abruptly slammed on my brakes as soon as I saw him in the crosswalk. I’ve seen him a million times before. He’s the ancient old man that walks. He walks everywhere. In my neighborhood, through my neighborhood and apparently, to the grocery store as well. When he saw me coming, he jumped. Just a little bit. I let him cross, leaving the back end of my car vulnerable in the usually busy intersection. He looked a bit concerned for his safety and sped up his cane assisted crossing, as much as he could. I had scared him. I was mortified. I didn’t see him when I started to cross the busy road. It didn’t dawn on me to look for him. I almost hit him.
I slowly edged forward and rolled down the window. I turned down the Christmas feel good music on the radio and yelled toward him. “I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. I just wasn’t looking. I was distracted.”
He looked at me with kind eyes and a look of innate understanding. He looked at me in such a shockingly gentle way. He made me feel so young and naive and vulnerable. He looked at me, cocked his wrinkled head, and then gestured with his cane, toward my vulnerable, newly washed trunk and shiny rear tires that were now sticking out in traffic. It was the cane I had seen so many times as I had sped through my neighborhood. It was the cane I had taken to indicate his weakness. It was the cane I thought held his 87 year old body up. And at that moment, he stood up straight, picked his cane up off the ground and pointed it at me.
“I will be fine. I will walk on. But, you must slow down. You must remember to look at what you have this very moment, today, right in front of you. You should not always look left or right to see what might be coming, but try and see what is right in front of you”
I had to get my car out of the intersection. Another car was coming. I nodded and rolled up the window and sneaked past the rear edge of his wisdom. I trolled home and pulled into the driveway. I grabbed some of my groceries from my shiny trunk and headed into the house. As I opened the door, I yelled, “Hey, come help me unload these groceries. There’s so much we have to do. Has anyone seen the Yahtzee game?”
Check This Out!
My latest book, recommended by my sister in law, a teacher, is "not much just chillin'" by Linda Perlstein. The sub title is " The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers." Oh dear. Very educational. If you are there now or will be some day then it's well worth your time.