I had forgotten to get lemon juice for a cleaning solution, and I didn’t want to drive to a store.
At first thought, my options were limited to two.
- Walk to Martins or a drug store, a one and a half mile round trip and barely get back in time for Anina’s nap.
- Make do without the lemon juice.
Then, I remembered the corner store on the top of the hill, perched on a tiny triangle of land between three streets. If you live in the city, you probably know the corner store vibe. Signs in fat fonts advertising phone cards, money orders, ATM, EBT. Bars over the door. Seedy characters hanging around in the miniature parking lot.
Now, after this condescending description, I should mention that the sermon on Sunday was about giving. Our pastor Lloyd shared an interesting bit of research by two psychologists. The wealthier a person becomes, the less likely they are to stop to help others.
I remember other research showing that wealthy people respond well to disasters where they can rush in and have a visible impact. I believe the article that Lloyd shared related to things like stopping by the road to help someone. What the psychologists found was that wealthy people consider themselves to be self-made and thereby assume that everyone else should be able to take care of themselves as well. You shouldn’t be stranded by the road with a flat tire because if you would have planned ahead it would not have happened. Things like that. Clearly it was a generalization and not everyone fits in that box. But it was still quite interesting, and I mention it now because of what happened next. Also, in my thoughts about the corner store, I was unconsciously elevating myself above the people who regularly patronize it, as if I were self-made.
Back to my lemon juice problem. Would the corner store on the hill have lemon juice? If lemon juice were an ingredient in an illegal substance, I would have felt more confident that the store would carry it. But I didn’t remember hearing about lemon juice when I attended a class on illegal drugs.
Finally, I decided that Anina and I would walk to the corner store. Even if it was a wasted trip, we would breathe in fresh fall air and get a close up walk through God’s autumn oil painting.
First confession: I took a ten dollar bill out of my wallet, tucked it in the pocket of Anina’s carrier, and set out. Yes, I left my wallet at home so I wouldn’t get mugged.
We set off up the sidewalk.
Second confession: I was relieved to see the Frito-Lay box truck perched on the edge of the parking lot. Somehow, the name brand made me feel more secure as we approached.
A sign on the front door announced “Only 2 people in the store at a time.” After entering, I realized that this sign was probably less about infectious disease safety and more about fire risk. The Frito Lay man took up most of the northwest quarter of the store.
I studied the wares. Off-brand diapers in small, expensive packages. Deodorant. Seven or eight boxes of women’s shoes for $25. A full range of packaged donuts, chips, and drinks in the coolers.
I made my way to the bullet proof glass protecting the cashier. Anina looked curiously around the store from her perch in the carrier.
“Do you have lemon juice?”
“Hmmmm….” the woman said. “No I don’t think so. Oh wait. Yes, we do have those little squeeze bottles.”
Squeeze was an appropriate format for this store. I barely made it past the Frito-Lay man. There, slightly sticky and dusty, I picked up four plastic lemon-shaped bottles of juice. One of them had expired in the spring.
“Oh, what a beautiful baby!” Several people commented on Anina as they came and went.
I paid for the lemon juice, handing my cash through the slit below the glass. But when the cashier handed back my change, she handed them through the glass. That is, a window of the glass had been opened. Somehow I had missed this and handed my money through the slit instead of through the wide open window. No wonder the lady’s voice sounded so close!
Outside, as I prepared to cross the street again, a former neighbor approached. I didn’t recognize him right at first, and when he came closer, I realized that it was because he had gained weight. When I had last seen him, he was gaunt, like a rack of bones stitched together with flesh. Now, he looked good and even wore new clothes.
“You’ve gained weight!” I congratulated him.
“What’s the baby’s name?” he asked. He had been gone since last winter.
He confided that he was getting more money each month because his dead wife’s will had finally begun to pay out after 25 years, and that he had finally gotten accepted into public housing.
“You’ve put on some weight too,” he said pleasantly.
I informed him that while his weight was a good thing, mine was not.
“You have a lot of gray hair,” he added. “More than me!”
“Oh, I’ve had it for awhile,” I said.
“But you look great,” he added generously.
But the thing that really made me remember Lloyd‘s message was the man in the parking lot when I arrived.
As I crossed the busy street and came closer to the store, I saw a man standing by the passenger’s seat of a car, staring at me. This was a bit unnerving, but I kept walking. Finally, he called to me, still staring at me as if he had never seen a woman or a baby before.
“Do you need a ride? With the baby and everything?”
I was so shocked I think I asked him to repeat the question. Then I explained that we were just coming to the store and lived nearby.
“But thank you for asking, it’s very kind of you.”
How many of us who like to patronize high class stores and restaurants take the time to look down the street and see a woman walking with a baby? Much less to stay there and wait until she gets closer? Much less to offer her a ride? Much less to really mean it?
Down the hill I went toward home with my baby, my extra weight and gray hair, four sticky bottles of lemon juice, and a humbler spirit.
Early Black Friday Sale November 17-20 (Week Before Thanksgiving)
I added a few items to the online store this week. I plan to explain them more fully next weekend, with an explanation of the early Black Friday sale.
We plan to be gone to Wisconsin this week (November 7-13), and I will be taking a break from shipping. I will not ship after noon on Saturday, November 6 until Monday, November 15. Just a reminder, most of my books are available on Amazon, including Trapped in the Tunnel with the new cover. Also, the e-books are available through libraries and a number of online stores and subscription services, including Scribd.