In line at the supermarket

The sky was grey as heavy rain clouded my windshield on the drive to the supermarket. A less than enthusiastic shopper such a destination fills me with anxiety at the thought of rows and rows of stuff. Carts filled by more focused shoppers zoom past as if speeding on an interstate highway. I daze off into oblivion; a defense mechanism to be sure.

By the time I reach the checkout, my cart is barely filled, as my eyes turn first towards magazine section. I wonder if Brad Pitt is still married and then looking at the gum, Alas, my childhood favorite Bubble Yum is nowhere to be found.

Recently a more adroit shopper has joined me on these excursions. I am grateful to her for the company, and that she does not make me self-conscious. Knowing my anathematic reaction and being overwhelmed by too many choices the type of a market is crucial. On the rainy day in question although out of the way we headed towards a smaller/less mega market and user-friendly setting.

I actually have begun to recognize the attendants and the baggers. That particular day the woman at the checkout counter was someone I remembered from a similar visit in the summer. She is a tiny bent-over woman with deep facial lines and long painted red nails. The impression she left on me was of kindness and the ability to brilliantly acknowledge people going through the line. It was also obvious that she had been sick her slight figure was bent over the cash register as if ravaged by an unknown enemy.

That rainy day, my friend and I had shared a shopping cart and the bent over lady with the long red nails saw that we shared a cart and separated our purchases by knotting my bags and leaving my friends open at the top. Grateful for her consideration, we said thank you and walked towards the exit. Seeing the other workers it was obvious that this market did not discriminate against hiring elderly and handicapped individuals.

I thought about the woman with the red nails that night and other people who make life easier. Perhaps it is the shoe-repair man, the woman that mends clothes diligently, or the person that teaches your children. A wonderful gift for the New Year is to send a note of appreciation, even from the long distant past.

I can only share how much joy it gives me to hear from someone I have known in the past. Teachers, shopkeepers and others become used to people coming and going. Having maintained a private practice for more than twenty-five years brings people into my life for a short time. Being contracted for a specific job means that once completed it is probably the last time that you will hear from someone. Knowing how clients and students from the past are doing and receiving messages about their whereabouts is immensely gratifying.

Email is much maligned for the outrageous and voluminous junk that crowds our mailboxes. At the same time the wonder of everyone having access to one’s whereabouts brings back into focus individuals long gone who have touched the landscape of one’s life leaving indelible memories.

Just last week, I received an email from one of my very first clients. “You have been on my mind for many years. I have fond memories of you. I am now working with emotional disturbed children in special education. I live alone now, my father is 93 and he lives in the same building. My two children are grown and married. My daughter is a Registered Nurse and my son who you tutored for reading went on to college and is now an artist. I hope you receive this e-mail; I would love to hear from you”.

I first met Loretta at my storefront-learning center on Court Street in Brooklyn after speaking to her several times on the telephone. She had called to inquire if I worked with adults that had been out of school for many years. I told her that I had and would be glad to help if I could. Loretta confided that she had married at sixteen and never finished high school. She and her husband had since divorced and although frightened to death it was time to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse.

There were obstacles to overcome, the first being fearful of being tutored outside of her home, and the second passing the GED which is much more daunting than many believe. I told Loretta, that to make things easier in the beginning, I would go to her apartment for our sessions. When she began to feel more comfortable we could switch to working in the office.

It took passing the GED, and enrolling in a community college before Loretta made the move and walked the two blocks to the storefront. As one of the eldest students she worked her way with the support of tutors to a degree as a Registered nurse. In time her daughter and son found their way into the program. Twenty years passed, and then came the first and a second email from Loretta. “I worked at the hospital for 10 years it was great! I learned a lot worked very hard and became confident. I realized although I have a large BROOKLYN accent its okay, because I’m proud to be from Brooklyn and that I am smart. Now I am a school nurse I started 3 years ago I developed a bad back from the manual labor in nursing. I walk to work, and read the NY Times. Let's not loose contact. I was so excited to find you!”

And so it goes, what a warm feeling that email brought me. How the memories came rushing back, to when I first met Loretta; now it is my turn to make a simple resolution of to thank whomever. And the next time we go on a shopping excursion I must remember to find out the name of the skinny lady with the long red nails that is a sometimes cashier and bagger maybe even to hug.