I pulled the truck into the grocery store lot and looked for a parking space. Vehicles jockeyed with one another and whizzed around shoppers pushing carts. The winter sun belied an impeding storm, which promised two days of cold, blowing snow.
Inside the store, employees stocked items with efficiency. Fresh produce, meat, bread, frozen vegetables and milk flew from boxes onto shelves. Shoppers navigated up and down the aisles from one end of the store to the other, or zoomed from location to location.
“Let me get my cart out of your way,” said a woman as I reached for a bottle of distilled water on the top shelf.
The checkout lines snaked beyond the scandal sheet and candy displays. We shifted our carts sideways so they wouldn’t block the aisles.
In checkout line four, I listened to the women in front of me complain about their husbands. I inventoried the items in my cart one more time and noted their selections: Family-sized packages of chicken drumsticks and hamburger meat, chips, donuts, bottles of Hawaiian Punch, Oreo cookies and frozen pizzas. They might have questioned the corn tortillas, shredded cheddar cheese and cans of tomatoes with chilies in my cart. Comfort food, I would have confessed, and there are four boxes of Girl Scout cookies on the front seat of my truck. (I know, I know, sugar, sugar.)
As the woman in front of me placed her last item on the conveyor belt, I reached for the divider and picked up the gallon bottle of distilled water.
“I’m sorry, Ma’am, I’m closed,” the young checker said in a tired voice. “I’ve had my light off for ten minutes.” She probably hadn’t eaten lunch, and it was mid-afternoon.
“Oh. OK. I’ll find another line.” I put the distilled water back in my cart. The person behind me backed up. We scouted the shortest lines. I chose line seven; her light was on.
This young checker had just come on duty. “We’re running out of carts,” she said to the checker in the lane beside her. “There aren’t enough of us. I can’t go get them.” Words swirled out of her like gusts of blowing snow as she scanned and bagged my items then handed me the receipt.
The automatic doors swung open, and I exited the store. Across the parking lot, a young man gathered shopping carts, which overflowed the return stile. He pushed a long line of them toward the store.
A woman seated in a motorized cart raised her hand and voice. “Excuse me,” she said, hailing the young man. I think I alone heard her over the rattling carts.
“I was trying to get him to help me with these groceries,” the disabled woman said.
“May I help you?”
“That would be nice. Just put them in the back seat.” I lifted the plastic grocery bags and secured them on the seats.
The last item was a case of beer. “My husband likes that stuff,” she said.
“I suppose some people do. I’ll put it on the floor behind the driver’s seat.”
I checked her cart to make sure I hadn’t missed something then shut the car door.
“Thank you,” she said.
“Oh, you’re welcome. We’re in this together.”
“You got that right.” And so I had.