“What are you making with all the cream cheese?”
It was the day before Thanksgiving, and the grocery store was packed with harried, frazzled shoppers. Or maybe that was just me. I had family driving in from Illinois, two kids home from school on the first of five days, and a bunch of errands and cleaning and cooking to do. I am not a chatty person at the grocery store. Or ever, really. I like lists and tasks and crossing things off when they’re done.
Normally, a question like this would be a nuisance, but the older gentleman who asked had a smile on his face and a genuine look of curiosity.
So, I answered. I told him about the pumpkin cheesecake bars and the pepper jam spread we were making for the next day. His eyes lit up as he told me about his plans for the cream cheese he’d just put in his cart.
“I make a blue cheese, cheese ball,” he said. Then he listed the ingredients to his recipe and how to make it, and I said with a smile, “I’m coming to your house.” The kids told him their grandparents were coming, and I noticed his Red Sox jacket. We talked baseball for a while.
“Kids, close your ears,” he said. “I grew up in Massachusetts and I was 14 before I knew that ‘damn Yankees’ was two words.” I revealed our love for the Cubs and our hopes to make it to Boston for a baseball game next year. He asked where we were from in the Midwest, and he knew of Dixon.
“I’m 84, I still work, and I’m having fun,” he said.
I believed him.
I don’t know how long we talked or how many people rushed past us. Time seemed to stop for a moment. I asked his name before he went on his way.
“Norman,” he said. And then he was gone.
I’d come into the grocery store grouchy and impatient because shopping with kids takes SO long. I left with a feeling of fullness. Talking with strangers in the store when I’m crunched for time is not what I do.
Later I wondered if my willingness to stop and talk to Norman was because my grandfather is no longer with us, and I have a weakness for old men with interesting stories.
We left the store and planned to grab all our bags to leave the cart at the front of the store. A woman approached with a quarter and she waited for our cart, even though in the time it took us to unload she could have had one from the line of carts nearby.
“Happy Thanksgiving!” my son called out. He’d said it just moments earlier to the cashier, too. I think holidays must be his favorite time of year because he opens up even more to strangers, spreading a little cheer with his enthusiastic greetings.
Before our next stop the kids were back to annoying each other. We dropped off the groceries at home then headed to the next store, even busier than the first. We only needed a few things, but we were pushing toward lunchtime and the limits of my children’s public behavior.
We bumped into some friends we hadn’t seen in a while and caught up with them. It further delayed our progress through our errands, but there’s no good reason not to stop to talk to a friend.
Our final errand was to the library to pick up a museum pass for a possible outing with our family this weekend. Our librarian friend Mary Kathryn was working, and after I handed her the wrong key card for the library, I chuckled.
“Too many errands today.”
She commented about the biggest travel day of the year and asked if we were traveling. The kids told yet another person that their grandparents were coming, and we talked about the travel time between Illinois and Pennsylvania.
“Happy Thanksgiving!” my not-so-little turkey called out as we left.
It was more than two hours start-to-finish for errands I could have done in half that time alone.
But this I know: Had I been by myself, I probably wouldn’t have stopped and talked with so many people, and certainly not for as long.
Everything got done and the human element made it all better.
I forget that. A lot. That life is not just a series of tasks to accomplish but people to connect with.