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).
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’.
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’.
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.
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’.
‘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’.
‘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’.
‘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.
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