Sunday, January 5, 2020

Angels in Our Midst

This story was prompted by a heart-warming posting of Arkansas Patti in November of 2019. In it, she encouraged her readers to share their own stories of unexpected generosity. Before sharing mine, I need to give you some background.

Between 1980 and 1984, I was the curriculum director for Winston Press in Minneapolis, Minnesota. For the position, which required traveling throughout the United States, I had to buy and wear professional clothing—suits, high heels, make-up. I never felt comfortable in those costumes. In truth, I felt like a painted mannequin. 

When I resigned and began to work in my home as a freelancer (1984-2001), I wore comfortable clothes: summer—shorts, T-shirts, sandals; winter—sweats, turtlenecks, loafers. And . . . no makeup. I always wore a size or two larger than necessary because I like my clothes to enfold me. 

Once, an acquaintance said, “Dee, you look like a bag lady. I know you don’t care how you look, but I’m embarrassed when I lunch with you.”

“Then don’t,” I said. And that was the end of that. 

Perhaps, in my oversized clothes, I do look like a bag lady. At least one experience shores up that possibility. It’s the story I’ll share with you today. (By the way, being a bag lady simply means that someone—it could be me—or you—is down on our luck.)

At 83, my hair is gray, my face lined. I’ve lost two inches in height, so I’m somewhat stooped. One winter afternoon, I went to Price Chopper to take advantage of a sale in the large grocery store. I was wearing sweats and a somewhat tattered and stained green winter jacket I’d bought from L. L. Bean in 1979. 

As I put my groceries on the check-out counter, I heard, “Mam?” 

I kept putting the cans on the counter. 

Then, a little louder, “Mam?” 

I looked beyond my cart. Next in line stood a young man, perhaps in his late twenties. He looked anxious.

“You mean me?” I asked.

“Yes, Mam. I want to fill up your cart. Anything in the store.”

Puzzled, I said, “Thanks so much, but I don’t need anything. Really.”

He glanced down at my cart. “Mam, I hate to think of you eating that.”

I looked at my items: 39 cans of Friskies cat food and 6 loaves of Cobblestone rye bread—both on sale that day. 

 “Mam, I can’t let you live on cat-food sandwiches. Please let me fill your cart. Please.”

The check-out clerk, overhearing the conversation, asked, “Mam, do you want to check out? Or shop some more?”

Bemused, I stretched a hand toward this benevolent stranger and said, “Thank you, but the cat food is for the three cats with whom I live—Ellie, Maggie, and Matthew. The bread’s for me. I have food at home. Truly. But you’re so wonderful to offer to do this. You’ve made my day.”

“Mam, please.”

“Truly, I’m fine,” I said. “But so many others need help.” 

He frowned, momentarily looked down at the floor, then raised his head, his eyes bright with a new idea. “Well, he said cheerfully, “could I give you some money?”

I broke into a wide smile. He was so dear. “Thank you,” I said. “I’m really okay. But maybe you could send a check to Harvesters or the City Union Mission for the hungry and homeless.”

He accepted my refusal with good grace, then, smiling, said, “I will, Mam. Really I will.”

 “I know you will,” I assured him. 

I checked out, thanked him again, and came home, my faith in the deep-down goodness of humanity reaffirmed. I hold that young man dear in my heart. 


Photograph of bread from Wikipedia.