The supermarket is busy this morning. And this feels like old times.
During the pandemic, this store was an empty test tube. Employees used to stand by the entrance and take people’s temperatures with radar guns. Cashiers wore Darth Vader masks. Most shoppers hurried through these aisles like they were rushing for the last chopper out of Saigon.
But today, everything feels almost normal. I can’t begin to tell you how nice this feels.
I am in the vegetable aisle, translating the mysterious hieroglyphics my wife calls a shopping list when I notice a woman nearby. She is mid-thirties. She clutches the arm of a silver-haired woman who is pushing a buggy.
The younger woman wears Velcro tennis shoes and shuffles her feet without lifting them, and although it is summer she wears a stocking cap.
She addresses the older woman. “Mom, I need my grapes. Don’t forget my grapes.”
“Of course not, honey,” says Mom.
“You promised me grapes, Mom.”
“I know, sweetie. You’ll get your grapes.”
When the daughter sees an employee nearby, she makes eye contact. She shows a brilliant smile and waves. She waves with her whole body. “Hi!”
The employee waves back.
The daughter practically shouts. “I’m Cheryl!”
“Nice to meet you, Cheryl.”
Cheryl is all smiles. “Okay! Bye!”
Mother and daughter leave the produce department.
Meantime, I am dutifully following my wife’s list, which carries me to the tomato sauce aisle where I am staring at roughly 32,384 varieties of canned tomato products.
In a few moments, mother and daughter enter the aisle. The daughter is still holding her mother’s arm and moving forward with a labored stagger.
The daughter is saying, “I don’t like orange juice with pulp, Mom. Please don’t buy that kind again, it’s yucky.”
“Please lower your voice, sweetie.”
“I don’t even know what pulp is. What is that gross stuff anyway, Mom?”
“Ssshhh. Inside voice, please.”
The young woman spots a customer nearby. “Hi!” Then she frowns. “Hey, what’s your name?”
So the guy gives her his name, which seems to please the woman greatly. And I’m grinning, too.
Soon, I am wandering through the store without aim. Seals and Croft are singing about summer breezes over the store radio. This is followed by the Bee Gees singing “Jive Talking,” a melody which has been scientifically proven to cause human buttock muscles to involuntarily twitch in perfect rhythm.
When I reach the meat department, I am inspecting a plastic-wrapped ribeye when I hear a screaming voice in the adjacent aisle.
It’s the young woman. She is weeping loudly. I can see her embracing her mother, and she’s bawling.
“But, Mom!” she screams, “you said I could!” Her voice isn’t angry, it’s laced with confusion, or maybe fear. “Mom, please!”
Her mother uses the canonized voice of patience. “Sweetie. I need you to use your indoor voice.”
“Mom! Please! You said that I could…!” More tears.
The mother looks exhausted. You can see total fatigue in her wilted posture. The daughter has completely lost composure, she is not only weeping, but now her face is tucked into her mother’s chest and she is full-on wailing. “Don’t leave me mother!”
The mother holds her daughter in the aisle, squeezing her tightly, kissing her hair. “Nobody is leaving anyone, sweetie.”
The noise attracts a scant crowd of onlookers. Including me. The mother holds up a hand and invites all us well-wishers to kindly let her alone.
She pets her daughter’s face. “Ssshhh. I need you to calm down, sweetie.”
“Ssshhh. Breathe, baby.”
The day is saved when a teenager in an employee uniform comes waltzing down the aisle. He is brandishing a grab bag of candy, like the kind you’d buy for Halloween. He’s a man on a mission.
The employee is maybe 15 years old, with longish hair and lean features. He approaches the weeping daughter and says, “Would you like some candy, ma’am?”
The crying daughter releases her mother and the tears have ceased. Her telegenic smile returns. She wipes her slick cheeks and reaches into the bag to remove a handful of miniature-sized confectionery delights.
“Oh my God,” she says. “Mom, look! Candy!” The daughter then hugs the grab bag like it’s a Teddy bear—as though she has never held anything more dear. “Oh! Thank you!”
“Hey, it’s no problem,” the young man says. “It just sounded like you could use some.”
“My name’s Cheryl!”
The teenage employee places a palm on his sternum. He says, “I’m Jason. You can keep the whole bag if you want to, we have plenty of candy in the break room.”
“Oh! Thank you, Jason! I love candy!”
The tired mother gives the boy a genuine look of appreciation. “Thank you.”
He smiles. “Hey. No problem. Have a good day, ma’am.”
And it is my sincerest hope that Jason’s mother might read this and be proud of the young man she raised.