Did you find everything you were
looking for? Julie, the magenta-haired
checkout girl, asks, and no, I think,
I didn’t find inner peace, or answers to
several questions I’ve been mulling,
like are we headed for nuclear war and
does the rest of the world think America
has gone bonkers and also, by the way,
I could not find the tofu bacon, and
the chocolate sorbet shelf was empty
(I did find canned pumpkin in aisle four)
but I am silent and smile at Julie who
seems to know what I’m thinking anyway
so I hold back and muse on the view
of the bay this morning when we walked
the dog and the parsnip soup we’ll
make for dinner and realize that total
fulfillment probably jades the senses and
the bagger asks if I’d like help today
carrying my groceries out to the car.
~Thomas R. Moore, “Finding Everything” from Red Stone Fragments
He was a new old man behind the counter, skinny, brown and eager.
He greeted me like a long-lost daughter,
as if we both came from the same world,
someplace warmer and more gracious…
…his face lit up as if I were his prodigal daughter returning,
coming back to the freezer bins in front of the register
which were still and always filled
with the same old Cable Car ice cream sandwiches and cheap frozen greens.
Back to the knobs of beef and packages of hotdogs,
these familiar shelves strung with potato chips and corn chips…
I lumbered to the case and bought my precious bottled water
and he returned my change, beaming
as if I were the bright new buds on the just-bursting-open cherry trees,
as if I were everything beautiful struggling to grow,
and he was blessing me as he handed me my dime
over the counter and the plastic tub of red licorice whips.
This old man who didn’t speak English
beamed out love to me in the iron week after my mother’s death
so that when I emerged from his store
my whole cock-eyed life –
what a beautiful failure ! –
glowed gold like a sunset after rain.
~Alison Luterman from “At the Corner Store”
During these two years of COVID-time precautions, grocery shopping has been an extra ordeal for both the shoppers and the store workers. We remain hidden behind our masks – both the ones mandated by state regulations to be covering our faces, as well as the ones we usually hide behind while out and about in polite society.
This week as I shopped in one of our local grocery stores, I witnessed a particularly poignant scene. As I waited my six foot distance in the check out line, the older man ahead of me was greeted by the young cashier with the standard “Did you find everything you were looking for?” He looked at her from behind his mask and his eyes were obviously smiling as she scanned his groceries. He responded with:
“I looked for world peace on your shelves, but it must have been sold out…”
She stopped scanning and looked directly at him for the first time, trying to discern if she misunderstood him or if he was mocking her or what. “Did you try Aisle 4?” she replied and they both laughed. They continued in light-hearted conversation as she continued scanning and once he had paid for his order and packed up his cart, he looked at her again.
“Thank for so much for coming to work today – I am so grateful for what you do.” He wheeled away his groceries and she stood, stunned, watching him go.
As I came up next, I looked at her watering eyes as she tried to compose herself and I said to her: “I’ll bet you don’t hear that often enough, do you?” She pulled herself together and shook her head, trying to make sense of the gift of words he had bestowed on her.
“No – like never,” she said as she scanned my groceries. “How could he possibly have known that I almost didn’t come to work today because it has been so stressful to be here? People are usually polite, but lately more and more have been so mean and refusing to put on their masks when I ask them to. No one seems to care about how others are feeling any more.”
She brushed away a tear and I paid for my groceries, and told her:
“I hope the rest of your work day is as great as that last customer. You’ve given me everything I was looking for today…”
And I emerged from the store feeling like I had scored a pot of gold like a sunset after rain.
Try finding everything you are looking for in a book of beauty in words and photographs, available to order here:
Make a one-time or recurring donation to support Barnstorming
Make a monthly donation
Make a yearly donation
Choose an amount
Or enter a custom amount
Your contribution is deeply appreciated.
Your contribution is appreciated.
Your contribution is appreciated.DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly