“Wow! Wow! Just…wow!” the woman was in her mid-40s, and had nothing but organic merchandise in her cart. Which I only noticed because she’d actually parked her cart directly in front of mine, so I couldn’t make an easy escape. The boys in the car part leaned forward and started poking her groceries.
“Are they all yours?” I smiled and nodded. She kept staring at them, as if she’d never seen children before. She didn’t say anything else, but didn’t move her cart, either. It was hard to not think that she was looking at us like some exotic insect she trapped in a jar.
The boys, bless their hearts, took matters into their own hands. Grabbing hold of the woman’s cart, they moved it to the right, crashing it into her ankle and bringing the whole interaction to a quick end.
I didn’t even correct them for that. Organic foodstuffs sort of had it coming.
The next interaction was in the cereal isle. An elderly lady; I’d passed her twice already, and both times she kept looking at us out of the corner of her eye. The third time our paths crossed, she spoke.
“Are they all yours?” I smiled and nodded. She smiled back. “I had five. Five in the first ten years of marriage.” Now my smile was genuine.
“We’ve got six in almost thirteen!” It was like two battle-tested generals, swapping war stories. She nodded and looked at each kid, smiling into their eyes. No feeling of being some exotic specimen with this woman. Here the sense of nostalgia was palpable and friendly.
Cue little boys in the car, cue 3 dozen soup cans spilling into the isle. Cue frazzled stock clerk, who had been trailing us at a discrete distance.
We said goodbye to the lady, and went to the dairy case. Or tried to go to the dairy case, since our progress was blocked by a man roughly 50 years old, who actually stood in the middle of our path, arms slightly raised from his sides, as if he was going to physically restrain us if we tried to pass him. His mouth and eyes were wide open in disbelief.
I looked him full in the face, expectantly. It was like a scene from “Gunfight at the OK Corral”. I expected a tumbleweed to blow past. I tried to move my cart to the left of him, and he shifted his body to block me. I tried to move to his right, but was blocked again.
“Excuse me. I’d like to get by.” I allowed myself the tiniest bit of irritation to seep into my voice.
The man blinked, like he was coming out of a trance, and moved juuuuust enough to one side so we could pass him.
The little boys grabbed his pant leg as we passed.
At this point, it was only the case of beer in the cart that kept me from ending the whole horrible process right there by walking out of the store, leaving a full load of groceries in my wake.
We made it to the checkout, where a burly, iron-haired man saw us, did a double take, and asked me if they were all mine. “Yes sir, they are,” while kicking aside little boy hands that had emerged from the car to try and grab fistfuls of candy from the racks.
The man looked to his left and right, as if checking to make sure the coast was clear, and then stepped closer to me. Lowering his voice so as to not be overheard, he said conspiratorially, “I come from a large family, too. Twelve kids there were.” He nodded, as if we were now bosom buddies, and stepped back to his checkout line. At a total loss for words, I just smiled at him.
“Lots of boys,” he continued, looking at the hands writhing from the car windows, like octopus tentacles. “It’s only the girls who come back, though. Only the girls.”
We both looked at Lotus, who was oblivious to the entire exchange. If the man’s right, and it’s only the girls who come back to care for aging parents, I really hope she’ll let me ride in the car cart.
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