I’m walking in the grocery store, remedying an coffee-creamer emergency. As I shop, I keep seeing this elderly couple ambling around, probably because I’m much, much faster than they are.
The husband is slower, pushing the cart that holds his cane. The wife is more mobile, and I notice her walking to the freezer case so he doesn’t have to. It always squeezes my heart a little, when I notice a tiny act of love like that. They’ve clearly been together forever.
In fact, it always makes me happy to see old couple anyway. Maybe I project myself and my husband onto that paradigm. (Well, okay, I’m sure I do.) Or maybe it’s that my grandparents are long gone. The ones I met, and the ones I didn’t meet, they’ve all been passed for years now. Maybe it’s the sometimes uneasy relationship I have with my own parents as I’m becoming more and more aware of their aging. But no matter why, I just love to see old, married people.
I end up behind them in line, but I don’t mind. I watch them interact. There are groceries and cards and cakes–they must be shopping for something, a celebration. I imagine them with family around the table, having a little party of some kind. It makes me happy.
The man seems a bit off in his own world, carefully, ever-so-slowly, going through his wallet and coin purse to count out the money. I wonder if he has trouble with counting. It looks like he might.
Oh no…they’re short. Not a few cents, either, but something like $15. The store is so over-priced! The husband kept going through his money, looking for more, a little confused that what he had didn’t seem to be enough to cover the purchases.
I was utterly horrified.
“I can get the difference,” I say to the cashier. She heard me, but also clearly didn’t want to embarrass the couple. They are going through their purchases, looking for what to put back. I don’t have a $20 bill, not enough cash in my wallet to cover the difference for them.
“I could put it on my card,” I said a little desperately. The cashier heard me, but was waiting it out. I could not watch this, these old people putting back their groceries. I looked around for an ATM that I knew wasn’t there.
I know this is part of being a cashier. She was kind and did what she could to minimize embarrassment, remain bright, asking if there was anything they didn’t really want. She couldn’t just charge them less, it wasn’t her money to give away. But the thought of these old people putting back some of their groceries was just beyond horrifying to me. They are somebody’s parents, somebody’s grandparents, and I didn’t want them to have to put back their groceries.
The pulled out a frozen cake to leave behind. I think they bought two, but I wasn’t sure. There still wasn’t enough to make up the difference. God, I hope they had two.
I threw down $10 while they were still looking through their stuff. After a minute that seemed like forever, the cashier slid it in with the rest of the cash laid out in front of her.
“Oh, look!” she said brightly, casting me a sideways glance. “Here’s another $10 that was mixed in with the rest of your money. There’s enough now,” The husband was too focused on his counting to catch it, but I wasn’t sure about the wife. They finished checking out, and she lagged behind a little.
“It’s hard to get over the embarrassment,” she said.
The cashier and I waved it off. “Don’t think anything of it! It’s happened to all of us, myself included.” I smiled–reassuringly, I hope.
“He’s retired now,” she says of her husband.
Lord, I hope so! The man looked at least 95. Instead of saying so, though, I nod and smile. She joins her husband.
I focus everything I’ve got on holding it together while I check out, because I’m one word away from major waterworks and I know it.
“Don’t say anything, don’t, don’t, don’t say anything,” I mentally will to the cashier. If she says two words about this, I’ll be a blubbering mess. It must have worked, because she didn’t mentioned anything.
As I cash out through watery eyes, I notice for the first time a small bird figurine sitting atop cash register.
Oh. Hello, birdie. You must be here for me…
I have no idea if the bird was trying to say something in particular, or just showing up for comfort. But as soon as I got home, before I took my groceries in, I got out the birdseed out I’d just bought. I refilled the now empty feeder and made another large birdseed heart on the sidewalk. I sent some love to those old people and hope their family is looking out for them.
I don’t know why putting out a bunch of birdseed felt like the right thing to do, really, the only helpful think I could do at that point, but it did. So I did it. I’m declaring it, “Be kind to old people and birds” Memorial Day.
How’s your holiday?