Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ice Cream

There was an elderly man at the closest scale to the bulk salad bins. Usually I would walk to another scale, but I had both boys with me and maneuvering all three of us around the produce section is not a lot of fun. We'd gotten to the store late and it was almost lunchtime so I was feeling particularly impatient. At our grocery store you are encouraged to put scale labels on the produce to speed check out. I skip it with some things (the first PLU any cashier learns is bananas), but the organic bulk field greens always get a label. I waited to the side of him repeating "94824" over and over in my head-I didn't want to forget the code.

The man took his time. He looked up and noticed me as he was finally picking up his bananas and said hello. I said "Hi there!" in return as I continued to mutter "94824", always sure to be polite to the old folks because that's how my mom raised me. He gently placed the bananas back on the scale and acute annoyance washed over me. I wasn't getting away from him quickly. In his slightly accented voice he told me how happy he was that the price of bananas was still low-all of the other food had gotten so expensive, but bananas were still cheap! I murmured my agreement and hoped he'd pick up his bananas and go.

He noticed the boys. T was sitting in the front of the cart and C was strapped to my chest in our Ergo. It's the easiest way to get through the store with both of them-while it's kind of a drag to be chained to the cart, T can't dart off if he sees something shiny. He told me how cute they are and I sincerely thanked him. Any mom will tell you it doesn't matter what kind of hurry you are in, when someone compliments your kids you stop, listen, and savor it. He reached over and touched C's arm, "I'm from the Old Country. We were taught that the first time you see a baby strapped to his mother you give him a dollar. It's the way I was raised, it's the right thing to do." I started to feel alarmed and told him that was so nice, but he didn't have to do that. He told me again it was the right thing to do, and he reached for his wallet. I started to feel panicky. I did not want this old man to give us money. He was a stranger. It felt totally awkward. And absurd. 

He told me he wanted to give the baby $5. There were three bills the wallet he pulled out, a $20, a $10, and a $1. I prayed I would either be swallowed up by the ground or he'd hand us the $1. He put the $10 into my hand. The crazy part of me worried that if anyone was watching this interaction they'd think the low class tattooed lady was pan handling in the produce section of Wegmans, taking advantage of the old folks. I know that thought was nuts, no one was paying us any attention. The not crazy part of me felt like a complete ass for being annoyed two minutes before that this kind man wanted to talk, he wanted some simple human interaction, to feel a connection with my boys. He told me about the 3 boys he used to carry on his chest and what colleges they were currently attending (Le Moyne, one I'm embarrassed I can't remember, and MIT). He wanted to reach out and be a small part of my boy's lives. That sense of wonder at his gift and his caring started to win out over my discomfort and embarrassment. I tried to give him back the money, but he wouldn't take it. He told me to buy the boys some ice cream. I knew if I continued to press the issue I would make both of us even more uncomfortable. So I extended my hand and gave his a firm shake and thanked him again as simply and sincerely as I could.

For the rest of the trip I walked around in a sort of daze thinking about all the little moments of kindness that exist in this world and feeling so lucky to be on the receiving end of one of them. The $10 that sat in the front pocket of the Ergo completely captured my imagination. What should I do with it? There was a teenage mother shopping with her own mom. They were walking side by side and taking up the whole aisle and created all sorts of inconvenient and rather rude traffic jams. I got stuck right behind them in the condiment aisle. But for once I didn't let myself get filled with rage over such an inconsequential thing. I even toyed with the idea of passing the $10 on to her. But I was conflicted about giving away money for the boys-if the dude wanted them to have it would it be rude for me to spend it differently?

When I got to my car I pulled out my phone and quickly put the story on my FB status, asking my friends what I should do. They said to do what the guy wanted-which deep down I knew that was the right thing. After dinner Z and I decided there was no time like the present, C's bedtime could be a little late for once and we drove over to Gannon's. Z suggested putting the change from the boy's ice cream in the tip jar. The place is staffed by teenagers and the jars say "College Fund" and have the names of all the schools the kids are either attending or want to attend written on them. It felt like a perfect way to respect the gentleman's wishes and do a little something nice for others.

The only hitch was that T won't eat ice cream. I know, I know, it kills me, too. We talked about how awesome ice cream was over dinner and T told us he liked really dark brown ice cream, which was a crazy load of crap, but we ran with it. When we got to the counter we asked for a sample of chocolate. To our surprise he tentatively licked the spoon...and...our stranger-kindness-miracle held! He said he liked it! We got him a kid sized cone, and got some soft serve in a cup for C. Yes, C is a little young for a cow milk based treat, but he's done great with yogurt and cheese and hell, it's what the guy wanted. Sometimes you give your baby age inappropriate special treats. Or at least that is what I told myself. Z and I got ice cream, too. When it came time to settle up I asked the young girl if I could pay for the kids and adults ice cream separately. She was very accommodating. She handed me back almost $6 in change from the boy's treats. I told her that an old guy at the grocery store really liked my boys today and gave me the $10 to get them ice cream and that we decided to give the rest to the "college fund". Her eyes got really big and she asked if I was sure. I said I was. I realize it's not like this was some huge gift to the kids working. It wasn't even really my money. But you know what? It felt really nice to do something surprising and decent. I sort of understood why the guy did it in the first place.

The boys yummed up the ice cream. C is teething right now and I think the cold did wonders for his gums. T got to make a huge mess. I don't know about Z, but I enjoyed the hell out of mine as well-for the record a kid's sundae...soft serve choc/vanilla twist with peanut butter sauce and extra whipped cream. It was perfection.

 Getting into the swing of things.

And here's the kid in the Ergo who caught the attention of the kind old man. 

Z finished before anyone else. 

 I think he liked it.

His beautiful blue eyes slay me. 

Does this look like someone who doesn't like ice cream?

Thank you, sir, where ever you are. Thank you for giving our family a lovely night out. We thought of you as we ate our ice cream. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to work on being gracious even when I'm uncomfortable (Also thank you, Michelle, for making that point). Thank you for reminding me that there are plenty of kind hearted people who just want to make a connection in this world. I'm glad I waited for the scale you were using. You taught me a lot yesterday. 


  1. Karen - For years I have never been able to properly receive a compliment. I have always deflected it, or worse, tried to argue against it. Finally someone said to me, I really want you to take this in the spirit intended, because I really mean it. Now I really try hard to do that, although inside I still deflect it. And accepting money is even harder for me, even from family! So while my advice was to graciously accept it, and I know in my heart that is the right thing, on the spot I would have had your same reaction.

    1. M-the background to the comment makes it even more meaningful. Somehow it makes it easier to work on being gracious because I know you're doing it, too.