Often, when I don’t really have time to shop, but need to pick up a dozen or fewer items I ‘speed shop’ at our local grocery store. I don’t pay much attention to prices or quantity but push the cart through the store at a good pace; the objective is getting the job done quickly.
This may include skipping an aisle where I could be lured into conversation by an acquaintance. When I encounter someone I know, I try to get away with a nod. I feel as though I am being rude but many times I am not the only one who wants to get in and out of the store quickly.
When I’m not in a hurry, a phenomenon occurs which happens all over small town America, probably all over the world. You see a friend in the first aisle of the store and exchange greetings. You concentrate on your shopping for a bit, then look up to see the same person in the next aisle, you exchange a few sentences. You may skip an aisle but then run into them again, by the time you both roll up to the checkout counter; you’ve caught up on most local events and are talked out. You could probably call this experience, ‘social shopping’.
Recently my friend Stanley saw an old ally in that first aisle. He had not seen the woman in a number of years and he couldn’t remember her name but seeing her filled him with a surge of familiarity.
They worked together on several volunteer projects two decades earlier. They became comrades. She was particularly easy to work with, and would take on a project with vigor and see it through with a smile on her face. He was ashamed that he couldn’t remember her name.
She was concentrating on ‘specials’ in the first aisle, pasta sauce in hand, examining the nutrition label. Stanly came up beside her and said, “Hello, how have you been?”
The woman responded with a sort of double take, and then a big smile, “Fine, how are you?”
Her big friendly smile pleased Stan, she remembered him fondly, as he had her. She didn’t say his name - so maybe she was in the same quandary as he. The name would come back to him he just needed to ruminate a bit more.
He left her to read labels and pushed onward, certain that not only would her name come to mind, but also they would have a chance to “catch up” in aisles to come. He slowly collected items from second row shelves, trying to remember. Was it something with an ‘R’, “Robin” maybe?
She rounded the end of his aisle. The carts very close now, her name came to him. “Ruth” he said, “I have to tell you what happened to ….”
He filled her in about one of their co-workers on the project which had seemed so important back then. As they both assumed would happen, the co-worker and his wife did get a divorce.
In the fourth and fifth aisle he told her about his kids and grandkids, all doing well.
She seemed reluctant to talk about her own children; she had two girls, around the same age as his boys. Ruth and Stanley had things in common, their kids were the subject of many a discussion all those years ago. Maybe she just wasn’t happy with the way her offspring had turned out.
He ended up in line right behind her at the checkout, as she was paying her bill. He felt uneasy because he had dominated their conversation.
Stan said, “Ruth, you haven’t told me how your kids are doing, did your oldest girl ever…?”
Her face flushed and she looked almost belligerent as she interrupted his sentence saying, “I’m sorry, I’m not your friend Ruth.” She turned and quickly pushed her cart, full of bagged groceries, out of the store.
Now Stanley understood why she had been so quite.
He would be better off ‘speed shopping’ more often.