The internet is filled with heartwarming stories of meeting strangers who change us, just a little. The tone of such a tale may be full-blown “Touched by an Angel” or rather more “Humans of New York.” Often the stories are set in exotic and/or spiritual locations like the Moroccan Souk, a falling-down church in Georgia, or a green woods in Ireland.
On Saturday, I had such an experience at the Lake Lansing Meijer.
There is nothing particularly exotic or spiritual about the Lake Lansing Meijer, unless you consider it miraculous to find everything you might possibly need in one place. (In many parts of the world, that would be miraculous.) But for those of us born and raised in Western abundance, it’s just part of the culture. Its shiny aisles, bright lighting, and Muzak don’t tend to inspire musings on the interconnectedness of humanity.
On the day in quiestion, after our usual strategic dividing and conquering of the aisles, Captain Carnivore and I regrouped and found a checkout lane. Behind me was an older gentleman on a motorized scooter, wearing a fur hat both enormous and so literally remarkable that one was moved to remark on it. “Nice hat!” Captain Carnivore said.
The man explained that it was from Norway, whence came his ancestors. Captain Carnivore, on the other side of me, began to load our items onto the belt and chatted with the cashier. I suspected, as one does in a long marriage, that I had been thrown under the social bus and was now stuck for the duration of finishing this “conversation.”
First, the gentleman told me about his ancestry, from the family’s Norwegian roots to the story of a relative, hung for heresy in Germany, whose wife and children fled to Pennsylvania. It was very loud in the store, he seemed a little hard of hearing, and I have a very low and quiet voice. We had trouble hearing each other. “Were they Pennsylvania Dutch?” I asked. He didn’t hear me. I really wanted to know, so I asked him again, and learned that they were not, but had lived in Amish country.
We moved on to more recent history, and I learned that he had two children about my age, a son and a daughter, but that his son was born with serious disabilities and died at the age of 28. It didn’t really matter that we were in line at the Lake Lansing Meijer; my eyes filled. “I’m so sorry,” I said.
“It’s okay,” he answered, “we knew it was coming and we had a great time while he was here.”
We went on to discuss his work as a Boy Scout leader, his grandchildren, his divorce (his “day of infamy”), and any number of things that might be considered TMI between people who only just met in the checkout lane.
He told me he went to Meijer every day to ride the aisles, and that the best day was Sunday because he liked to find sale items not included in the Meijer weekly circular. “Then,” he advised, “you can decide what to buy during the week.”
We were, by that time, bagged, paid up, and receipted. “It was so nice talking with you,” I told him. I meant it.
“I’m here every day if you want to talk some more,” he said.
I can imagine stranger things than a return to Meijer under the guise of buying more skim milk or a bag of onions, to have another conversation with The Cat in the Hat.