45: The Market

45: The Market

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum

The Market

One can pay back the loan of gold, but one dies forever in debt to those who are kind.

~Malayan Proverb

I write love letters to the man who bags my groceries. I have never sent them. I mostly write them in my mind. But I do love him. In fact, I love everyone at the grocery store by my house. I love the quiet, sharp-humored people who stock the produce displays, the handsome butchers, the high-spirited people who scan my groceries, the courtly gentleman who opens the door and greets me.

This grocery store is small. When I was new in town, and filled with complaints generally, I was irked by some prices and the lack of parking. But quickly I came to love everyone in the place, and everything they do, if only because they are so kind to me and my boy.

When we arrive at the store, every day, my son runs ahead of me and reaches the door even before I have had a chance to lock the car and find someplace to stash my key. I race to catch up, but he has already entered the store and gone deep inside. I can hear him whooping and laughing (making what his brothers call “Nicky noises”), but don’t know in what aisle he is working.

Happily, it doesn’t matter. I know he’ll be fine. I get my cart and walk the usual path, past the produce (picking up bananas, apples, and green beans), past the dairy (milk for the other boys, lemonade for Nick, eggs for adults), on to the meat counter. While the lovely butcher is getting my chicken cutlets, I look around, since from this back corner I can see all the way to the south and the west corners of the store.

Usually, at this point I catch sight of Nicky, looking for me, his arms full of his groceries: ice cream sandwiches, crackers with peanut butter, dark chocolate sandwich cookies, brown paper sacks, and a toilet brush. Every now and again we miss this rendezvous point, but if I head down to the bakery counter and peer around, I see one of the young men stocking shelves who smiles and silently points in the direction he last saw my gorgeous, beach-blond wild man.

At some point, Nick started showing up with little containers of his favorite food: bowtie noodles with pesto, and I realized that he was somehow — with almost no expressive language — interacting with the people behind the prepared food counter. I wanted to thank them, for the gift of the effort on their parts that this transaction must have required, but was worried I would not be able to get through the sentence without bursting into tears. Recently, Nick danced past our cart and tossed in a newly wrapped butcher package of ground beef (a.k.a. “habooger”). Oh my god! The butchers, too?

Then we trundle together to the cashier, and Nicky dances up and down the space behind the young people bagging groceries, singing incomprehensibly and spinning wildly enough to worry the elderly shoppers and their companions. The cashiers offer Nick genuine and warm greetings, calling him “Hon,” while requiring nothing of him in return. The baggers laugh good-naturedly when Nicky crashes into them. Nick is completely confident and at home here with his people.

I don’t know why these people are so nice to and tolerant of the unusual shopper I bring every day. Cognitively disabled people have worked there over the years, so we know the management is comfortable with human diversity. But there is more going on in that store than management policy. There is powerful energy coming from the man laying out the zucchinis, the high school kid loading people’s wine into boxes, the grandmother who might be excused for being sorry that she is still at work. They are sending me love letters daily with their rich and mellow kindness. Someday I am going to write back.

~Jean McAllister Brooks

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