‘I’m very sorry to hear that’

I was talking to a friend this morning and she said, ‘I think you must be exuding a special kind of energy’.  And she said that because I was telling her a story of what happens to me when I go to the supermarket.  (And you know the supermarket I’m talking about because it’s the one where I was once asked to produce my senior’s card).

Totally irrelevant to the story but I'm getting my stained verandah furniture recovered.  T

Totally irrelevant to the story but I’m getting my stained verandah furniture recovered.

I was in there a few days ago, rushing about trying to grab the things on my short list in record-breaking speed.  As I raced with my granny trolley down aisle three, I heard a voice call out, ‘Excuse me, can you help me?’

I turned back and saw I’d just whizzed past an elderly gentleman with a shopping basket with nothing much in it.  He was holding a can of creamed corn and he asked me, ‘What is creamed corn?’  And I explained it to him.  He then said, ‘Is it good on toast?’

I said, ‘Yes, you can heat it up and put it on toast, a lot of people do’.

It will be so nice to sit on furniture with no stains.

It will be so nice to sit on furniture with no stains.

He said, ‘I’m a widower and I’m on my own and I can’t cook; I can only cook things with toast’.  I was instantly very saddened for this man.

‘I’m very sorry to hear that’.

‘I grew up in an orphanage’, he continued with a British accent.

‘An orphanage?  I’m very sorry to hear that.  Was that in England during the War?’

‘Yes; and one day this beautiful lady came in and she had a lovely scent; the nuns never had any scent; and I looked at this lady and thought, ‘she looks lovely’, and it turned out to be my mother’.  And I was so happy this story had a happy ending.

‘Amazing, and so your mother came and took you home?’

‘No, she just came and took us out for the day.  Me and my brothers and sister.  She took us out for the day then put us back in the orphanage.  Never saw her again’.  I didn’t know what to do.  I didn’t know this man and he was telling me about a tragedy.

‘I’m very sorry to hear that; that must have been very difficult for you’.

‘She wasn’t fit to be a mother; she just couldn’t cope with us.  Her husband died when she was 27 and she just couldn’t cope’.

‘I’m so sorry to hear you had such a difficult childhood’.

‘I don’t know what I did to deserve that’.  What do I say?  He continued, ‘We got bombed during the war; we all had to rush to the shelter and in the morning when we came up the stairs, half the building was gone’.

‘That sounds very frightening’.

‘As kids we thought it was fantastic’, he said with a smile.   ‘Can I follow you around?  I always like to follow the ladies around.  I follow them and watch what they’re putting in their trolleys because they look like they know what they’re doing and I can’t cook, you see’.

It all looks so very sad

It all looks so very sad

So I let him shop with me and every time I put something in my trolley he asked me what I was using it for and I don’t think he was interested in my recipes, more in just having a chat.  I gave him a few ideas about what to serve on toast and then wished him well.  He seemed to have many needs and I walked away feeling useless like I hadn’t really met any of them.


Ghastly – a lot of the stains are water damage

Same supermarket a few days later.

I’d heard these little soft drinks were on special so I rushed to the shopping centre with all the seats folded flat in my car.  I  wheeled a trolley over to the aisle where I saw the drinks all stacked up in cartons on the floor.  I was hoisting the 24-packs of soft drink into my trolley when a very tall man in his mid-50’s passed by with his trolley and said, as he looked into my trolley, ‘Well I guess you can’t have too much of anything, can you?’

And I said, ‘Oh these are for a party’.

‘And what a terrific host are you, buying all these’.

‘Oh, I hope so’, I said, bending back down again to lift another case into the trolley.

‘Cause that’s what it’s all about around here, isn’t it; who’s hosted the best party’.

‘Oh, I’m not sure I’d be in the running’, I said as I looked back down trying to keep busy.

‘Are you a Queenwood mum?  You look like a Queenwood mum’.  (Amazing – that’s exactly the school Arabella went to!  Didn’t know the mothers had a certain look.)

‘Ex-Queenwood mum actually, my daughter’s now at uni’.

‘Oh, uni!  You must have done something right.  There must be some terrific genes in your family; you must have done a great job of bringing her up’.

‘Oh, I think there’d be a few who’d dispute that’.

‘My son’s in jail’.  I stopped short; we’d just gone from happy to misery.

‘Oh, I’m very sorry to hear that’.  And he told me the school he sent his son to and it is one of Sydney’s best and most prestigious schools.

‘He was expelled’, he continued.

‘Oh, no,  that’s very unfortunate.  Did he go off the rails after he was expelled?’

‘A bit before then, then things just got worse’.

‘That’s very sad and I’m so sorry to hear he’s in jail.’

‘It’s the second time; I put him in there the first time’.  I was a bit stumped as to what I should say but he changed the subject.

‘So how many have you got coming to the party?’

‘About a hundred and ten’.

‘That’s a lot.  Why are you having so many?’

‘I’m not sure myself, really’.

‘He’s a meth addict.  His brain’s now half the size it should be.  His thought processes are all screwed up.  He’ll never be the same’.

‘Meth?  That’s very tragic.  I’m so sorry to hear that.’

‘It’s okay; I’ve been living with this for 10 years now; I’m used to it.  It’s just a sign of the times we’re living in; isn’t it’.

‘Times are difficult, yes’.

The new fabric sitting on all the stains waiting for the upholsterer

The new fabric sitting on all the stains waiting for the upholsterer

‘Well you haven’t got enough drinks.  You’ll need more than that for a hundred and ten.  Blood orange is the most popular flavour; get some more blood orange; you probably need equal numbers of each flavour.  Why don’t you get yourself a party planner and then they can do all of this for you?’

‘I’m quite enjoying organising it myself, actually’.

‘Fair enough’.

‘Well, I think that’s about it.  I’d better try to get all this down to the car park’.

‘Are you a local mum?  Balmoral?  Beauty Point?  Mosman?’

‘Yeah, yeah; local’.

‘And I love that top you’re wearing.  Is it Collette Dinnegan?  Zara?’

‘I’m not sure, actually, I think it came from overseas’.

‘Well it looks lovely on you’.

‘Thanks so much’, I said as I pushed my heavy trolley to the checkout,  ‘And I do hope things work out with your son’.

‘Thanks for listening’.

I don’t think I’m letting off any kind of energy; and while I think one of them was after a bit more than a listening ear, it’s pretty obvious there are a lot of people around who are in a world of pain.  And I feel bad that I did no more for these two gentlemen than offer a listening ear but I didn’t know what else to do.

One thing for sure though; after talking with these two men, the troubles in my own life have shrunk considerably.

Home from the supermarket, the drinks are now stacked in the hallway

Home from the supermarket, the drinks are now stacked in the hallway

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  1. You have such a good ear for conversation (if you ever aspire to write a novel, that’s a gift). I used to talk to an old man in the supermarket too, in a suburb where I once lived. Loneliness is an awful thing, and a friendly ear is a great kindness.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this story. Some people are so lonely and sad: they just need to chat. Someone once said to me that the elderly need 7 contacts a day- any sort of contact can help enormously. Just a chat, a phone call.
    I get some crazy comments in the supermarket sometimes which, in hindsight, I sort of value. One old chap came up and said ” Tell your husband to look after you” Hmmmm. But when the really young check out girls call me LOVE or Dear, I feel like throwing up. And then, what is it with the ” And how’s your day been” comment as you buy stuff? Fine thanks, and yours? Then followed up with ” and what have you got planned for the day”. What does all this mean?
    I am so pleased you gave them some time and company.

  3. You’re so good to have listened, although the second guy would have made me a bit uneasy. But you’re right, so many people have much worse problems. We should be grateful. GG

  4. It’s very true that our lives are truly blessed and spun with magic when we compare them to what some people are going through. I believe you came into their lives at a time that they needed you Charlie. They wanted someone to listen and that is in short supply at times.

  5. Goodness, Charlie. If you don’t have a particular type of energy then you have a particular type of chance, running into two people in the same supermarket with such tendencies to woeful conversation! I feel for that first man too; it must be hard coming up with new things to put on toast and getting your conversational needs met in the supermarket. Good on you for fulfilling that need at least.

  6. Hello Charlie, you didn’t know that you could be a super mom, party planner, blogger and a therapist all on the same day. I am sad for their stories but I am delighted it helped put your life all back into perspective. Sometimes we all need to be reminded how many of the little things we are fretting about are so small compared to the rest of the worlds problems. BTW, I can’t wait until you post the updated outdoor new fabric furniture photos.

  7. Danielle says:

    You’re a gem, Charlie, most people would have made some excuse to rush on by, but you gave these poor lonely chaps some of your time and listened to them and I’d like to think that would have helped them a wee bit.

  8. You may not be giving off a vibe, but these bizzarre things always seem to be happening to you!

  9. Lovely story, and you are gorgeous, just listening to peoples life journeys are all they need at times to feel validated and listened too. You gave them more than you realise. Xx

  10. Ps love the metaphors of the furniture

  11. I’m pretty sure you improved the elderly widowers day by just spending a little time with him. As for the other chap – you’re right. I ‘m sure he was after more than a chat. There’s certainly a broad cross-section of humanity in a supermarket.

  12. Wow, just goes to show how lucky we are. Good on you for listening to them both. Oth very sad stories.

  13. I read recently that lifeline calls are going unanswered because the demand is too high – perhaps these people whose calls are unanswered are going to your supermarket instead. Am sure listening to these people helps them but I can see why you feel helpless

  14. I’ve heard that certain supermarkets are great pick-up places in Toronto! Maybe that’s what the second gentleman thought. How nice that you spent so much time talking to the elderly gentleman; I hope the second guy helped you with your soft drinks! I guess Archie won on the numbers attending! What are you serving? We had 110 at our wedding!
    That fabric is lovely, the furniture will seem like new! Are you having it painted white too? That’s so popular here.

  15. I think you are exuding a special kind of energy! You are so lovely for talking the time to chat to obviously lonely strangers, not many would. I had to laugh at Queenwood Look. Ha!

  16. Sometimes listening is the best gift you can offer. Clearly you do exude an energy of compassion. Consider this a gift.

    My husband tells me all the time that people will tell me anything and that I often make them cry. Not intentionally, mind you. But I sincerely care and take the time to listen and don’t talk about myself. Except that I am talking about myself right now.

    You listened. And now you can also pray for them. Bless you, Charlie, for your compassion.

  17. Mike says I have that kind of energy too. I always seem to wind up in similar conversations and can never quite get out of them. My guess is you did do some good for these gentlemen. You provided an ear and sometimes that’s all that someone needs – a person to listen openly.

  18. I AM sorry to hear about what those two gentlemen are going through…..it’s painful..:( I had my FIL go through that phase, and while I was unfortunately at the receiving end of it, yet I did understand it, and thank God I did. I try to call him every other day, just to let him know I am there. It’s sometimes as simple as that…I wish we had more people like you around.

  19. You might think you didn’t do much, but I bet it made a world of difference to those two men. Listening is so under-rated! These men will remember the time you gave them and the relief that came with just talking – you rock Charlie!

  20. It does put out lives in perspective listening to others doesn’t it?
    I once had a lady ask me to read her the avo content on all the dips cause she didn’t have her glasses. I was quite shocked to find the most avo in an avo dip was about 30%!

  21. I embarass my daughter all the time because I talk to people I don’t know. I am just a people person. I see someone struggling with their kids or their bags or something and I help them and while doing so I strike up an easy conversation with them so I’m not just grabbing their stuff, ya know. I like being there for people. It gives meaning to my life. Makes me feel like I have purpose… You are a fabulous person for being there for these two gentlemen, Charlie, fabulous! xo

  22. You always have the best stories! That supermarket is a gem for great blog material. 😉

  23. It took me a reread to figure out that the second gentleman was hitting on you. I’m not too swift on the uptake in those situations. 🙂 The first story was so sad however. I wonder that there are no senior citizen centers in the area where widowers or older single men could learn some basic cooking skills. It would be very useful, I think.

    Hope the 21st b’day party goes well.

  24. Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  25. Yes said stories, and there are a lot of lonely people out there. But have you noticed that men mostly want to chat to women. They never seem to single out other men especially in supermarkets.

  26. My mother used to tell me that no matter how bad things were for me, someone else was having it worse. I believe it and try to remind myself of that whenever I get a case of the ‘woes’. Sounds like you met up with some interesting people. Thanks for sharing.

  27. Listening to such stories, it truly does make you grateful for your lot in life.
    You are wonderful to listen to strangers!

    Choc Chip Uru

  28. My friend thinks I’m a bit of a Lost-person magnet too Charlie. Any lonely older person, lost child or sad soul seems to open up to me as well- much to my confusion! I think they just need to lighten their burden a little, and you are such a sweetie they can’t resist you. Gorgeous fabric by the way, very chic! Xox

  29. You are an awesome person from what I have read on your blog….I seem to have that energy with my twins friends, they always seem to come to me when things are not going well….. and am always being told what a wonderful mum I am fro them – love them when they say that, really good for the ego 🙂

  30. G’day Great post today Charlie! You have a unique empathy and is sad that so many people in this day and age are so lonely and ALL they want to do is have a chat….there should be more people in the world like you!
    Cheers! Joanne

  31. I’ve got no doubt that for these two gentlemen, you probably made their day. So sweet of you to really listen to them. Stories like this really make us grateful for the blessings in our own lives.

  32. definitely puts things in perspective. i think it’s great that you took the time to listen to them, i’m sure you made a difference in their day

  33. You DO too give off that aura. I’ve been in it. You’re a warm, welcoming person. It’s only after we get to know you that you tell us how you really feel. 🙂 I love you to bits!

  34. Oh my goodness, Charlie. I don’t know what I’d do if I had these two back to back experiences. My heart just hurts for both of these men. You are giving off some kind of energy, and it is probably simply your kindness shows. There are so few people who are willing to listen to someone who is hurting. I think you were their angel for that moment. ox

  35. You must have some sort of “listening face” that convinces them you want to hear what they have to say!

  36. Oh good, so it doesn’t just happen to me then. Glad the outcome for you was seeing your troubles in a new light.
    Have a happy day Charlie.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  37. I think you have a special charm that is coming out of you! In fact, it is coming from your blog too! It’s a great blog topic and you tell great stories. And I bet they feel happier after talking to you. 🙂

  38. What an excellent and touching post, Charlie. I am still worried about that poor man and his toast meals…sad. Your stories are always great, though, even when tinged with sadness.

  39. Well, you are just very approachable, which is a great trait. Interesting how these gentlemen just chatted away about their personal lives. Lonely, I suppose. I feel a bit sad for the gent that followed you around the store. Sigh.

  40. I feel so sad for the old man he just wanted some human contact – such a shame he was so lonely but lucky for him he picked you to talk to. Puts our lucky lives into context doesn’t it but I can see why the second encounter would be difficult to handle.
    Btw I love the new fabric you’ve chosen – looks a bit Moroccan?

  41. It never hurts to put your life back into perspective this way. You must look like a nice person for everyone to tell you their troubles. x

  42. Awww I understand sometimes people are just really nice and they just want someone to talk to but it’s also a little strange for them to tell you all this! I wouldn’t know how to react if someone told me that he grew up in an orphanage and his son was in jail!

  43. Though it can wear you down, I think it wonderful that you took time to listen to both men. Not many would. The first is obviously lonely and you may have been the only person with whom he conversed that day. The second just needed to talk about his son. Both are tragic characters. I hope they find others to listen.

  44. Well I hope you aren’t going back to that supermarket!!!
    How terrible, I think I would have cried for both those men and bought them both home with me… so sad! I can’t imagine their pain…

    On a happier note, you won 1 of the $50 cocktail vouchers on my site, can you email me the postal address you want it to go too.

  45. Ha, the only people who speak to me in supermarkets are little old ladies who can’t reach the boxes of whatever from the top shelf (this happens a LOT it seems). So sad about that old fella – must have been quite lonely… bet you gave him a nice memory – someone to talk to for a bit, albeit briefly.

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