‘Dear God,’ I prayed silently into my own ear, ‘please smite her for this inexcusable self-centeredness, so that I can get out of here on time to pick the kids up from school.’
I tried to hide my dark glares from the cashier as she humoured the woman in front of me who beamed with pride at her kindergartener’s just completed rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
‘Hooray!’ I fumed sarcastically. ‘Song’s over. Can we move on, now?’
I knew I was being cranky, but I couldn’t help myself. My babies were born just before the advent of pay-at-the-pump gas stations and drive-thru banking. Shopping had been just another miserable reality that clouded my day each time I faced dragging three small girls into a grocery store. I hated being the supermarket spectacle of squealing girl-games, grabby toddler hands and raucous rounds of grocery cart horseplay. I yearned for the oasis of completing purchases in ho-hum anonymity as I had done in the days before babes.
‘Do your shopping in the evening and leave the children with Daddy.’
Such seemingly simple and wise advise from so many, but my husband so worked hard and had little time for relaxation. I hadn’t the heart to drop the extra work on his commute weary frame when he walked through the door, desperately needing rest himself.
We used to shop together, playing practical jokes and riding on the end of the cart like little children. I’m sure people stared at us then, too, but it was different. We were having fun. I didn’t scold and snap all the time.
Now, with the girls in school full time, I could shop so quickly that I would pat myself on the back for achieving such efficiency. But, lo comes this galling woman flaunting her child’s nursery rhyme debut as though the girl was belting out the moving strains of Ave Maria in the middle of some cosmopolitan opera house in New York City.
I was just about to interrupt the child’s request to perform another song when I caught sight of a slightly stooped old man wandering in through the exit door. I had seen him many times before. He was such a regular in the grocery store when the girls were small, that I had taken the impression that he wandered around the store more for company than for necessity.
There was this one particular day, it still stands out in my mind, when he approached my cartful of girls with tufts of hair curling up absurdly from just above his large ears. He stopped short to admire the girls and began to count loudly.
‘One, two, three. Three beautiful little girls.’ His accent sounded Romanian and his hearty laughter sounded remarkably similar to The Count from Sesame Street. My oldest daughter dubbed him ‘Count Grampula.’ However, my middle daughter was not so pleasantly taken with his laughter. In those days she cultivated an intense dislike for strangers. She scowled deeply, grey faced with disgust of the old man’s laughter.
‘Don’t talk to me and my sis-ers.’ She was too young to pronounce sisters, but plenty old enough to display rude, anti-social behaviour.
Deeply mortified by her unfriendly reaction, I tried to apologize, but he caught me by the hand, his face suddenly sober.
‘They are all a blessing. Everyone. Just love them.’ As he spoke, my eyes glossed over with unexpected emotion.
I had just finished getting angry with them for grabbing off the shelves for probably the hundredth time. Now, as I prepared to admonish her for her rudeness, this gentle old man, the object of her scorn, implores me to just love them. He nodded slightly and wandered off chuckling to himself as he went.
I vaulted my head out of recollection at the sound of the little girl’s next song. The old man had paused to listen. The cashier was glancing at me nervously to see if I was going to get angry at this further disruption. I smiled as softly as I could and began another dialogue with God.
‘Thank you, God, for not smiting me for my self-centeredness. I’m sure the girls will be fine for five extra minutes.’
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