Note to self. Monday. Late morning. Stay away from the grocery store. There are variations on this theme. I've learned I don't like to shop on Saturday or Sunday because that is when all the yuppies with young children seem to congregate and gorge on all the free samples being hawked on the end of every isle. Weekdays, from 4 to 6 pm is the "I just got off work and need to get groceries fast so I can get home and cook for family" working mom marathon. Trust me, you do not want to get in their way. It usually is safe to go in the 1 to 4 pm range. Or mornings. Mornings used to be okay. Maybe not so much anymore.
I went to the store on Monday. I swear I missed the memo. It surely was posted somewhere in big hard-to-miss letters. I say it had to be there because the clientelle was so obvious. Old people and the mentally handicapped. Not that those two classes were exclusive. I can be a very patient person when I have to be. Monday? I had to be.
I know they say as you age you shrink. Something to do with your cartilage and bones. Still… these people must have started out at about 4 feet tall. I had more cow-eyed looks as I moved down the isles wordlessly begging me to get something off the top shelf for them than I've had my whole life. I'm 5'9", which in the real world isn't tiny. Most of my friends growing up have always been shorter than myself and I've gotten used to that wordless thing short people can do where they stare at something on a high shelf, then start gazing around to see who in the vacinity might have the capability of reaching said object. I'm nice. I usually volunteer without being asked, only to have the universal response be, "I was wondering how I was going to get that down!" That was my typical older person shopping time experience.
To make Monday even more exciting there were several handicapped people in the store. I don't have a bias either for or against the mentally handicapped, only to be grateful that I nor anyone in my immediate family have this disability. In my younger days I did childcare for a girl who was 12-years-old physically and had the mental capacity of a 4-year-old. It truly made me appreciate what the parents and caretakers of these people must deal with each and every day and I hold them in the highest esteem. Myself? I can't do it. I have the patience necessary to deal with the situations of a grocery store happenstance, but not in hours, days, weeks or years of continuous proximity.
For the most part, when I see these people out with their caretakers, I am only a bystander. Monday I became a participant when a woman, approximately my age (late 40's, early 50's) was being led through the store with her 20-something caretaker. At a glance, the older woman appeared to be very child-like in her winter parka with the fur-lined hood pulled up and the fact she was only about 4-foot tall. Immediately, you could tell by the way the caretaker was speaking to her that this was a situation of the smaller woman being cared for as she was coaxing her with conversation you might overhear with a mother and her young child. I was standing in line to check out when they went by my cart. Suddenly, the small woman's eyes lit up as she looked at my cart. Standing as I was, on the opposite side, I couldn't see what had grasped her attention. I'm running a quick checklist through my mind trying to think what I'd put in the basket that would be so appealing – not being allowed to buy candy or any sweets that might have caught the eye of this child-woman. Against the scolding of her caretaker, she reached into my cart, triumphantly pulling out the Plochman's mustard in the bright yellow bottle. She held it aloft, a beautiful smile splashed across her face. Ignoring her caretaker, she proceeded to mumble a few things I couldn't understand while gazing lovingly at the bottle…. and with a tender kiss, she put it back in my cart. The caretaker apologized, and continued telling "Missus" that she couldn't just take things out of other people's carts… all the while "Missus" continued to look back at my cart and wave to her friend Mr. Mustard.
Makes you wonder. I know that I probably will never be 4-foot-tall when I'm older, even with "shrinkage". I doubt if I'll ever have to ask for help getting something off the top shelf. But the other? How quickly we can presume that we will never be mentally handicapped, then turn and in the blink of an eye have a stroke or a car accident and end up having to learn everything all over again. Even if we are not born with the handicap, sometimes fate deals us a cruel blow and we can end up that way. I hope if I ever end up that way that someone else can smile and be patient with me when I decide to kiss the mustard.