Thursday, August 23, 2012

Down Every Aisle...


This morning I'm at the grocery store, standing solitary and bemused in an aisle, as I try to remember that one item NOT on my list.  I thought of it as I was driving to the store, sure that I wouldn't forget, but now that I've gotten everything on the list and want to check out, I can't for the life of me recall what the one last thing is.
In my peripheral vision, I see someone coming down my aisle, but I'm mentally going through my cupboards and the refrigerator trying to jog my memory about that blasted missing item.
"'Scuse me, Miss," says a very old, wobbly voice.  Two things occurred at once: Miss?  No one's called me Miss in ages--how old is this person to think I qualify for Miss status?  And second: here we go again.  I seem to be generating some sort of magnetic field lately, attracting strangers, old ones especially, and seemingly always in the grocery store. 
I turn to look at the person, and find myself looking at two people, both staring up at me.  Now, as I've mentioned before, I'm sort of tall, however, I felt like Gulliver as I gazed at this ancient couple.  The woman couldn't have been 5' tall, or weigh more than 90 lbs soaking wet and fully dressed.  She stood about boob-high to me, and reminded me of a wee sparrow, or maybe a wren.  The man was a bit taller: maybe shoulder-height to me, but wizened and worn like an old piece of leather.

"Yes?" I ask, smiling at them.

The old lady mutters to the man that she doesn't want to make jam anyway, so why don't they just go home?  I think at first that they can't find the canning section, which is understandable because for some unknown reason, the store has moved all that stuff to the gardening area.  Go figure. 

"Are you looking for the jars?" I say helpfully, because I had gone up and down every aisle in the bloody store before I found the inexplicable canning department when I made the cherry/blueberry jam last month.

"No," says the old guy, "we can't find the corn syrup.  A young man told us aisle 9, and that's where it should be, with the baking stuff, but it wasn't there."

I grin.  "It's hard to figure the method to their madness sometimes, isn't it?"

He steps close to me and lowers his voice to murmur, as if what he's going to say is an alarming secret that shouldn't be overheard, "We're trying to make jam, but the recipe calls for corn syrup."  He blinks up at me.  "You ever hear of such a thing?"

Trying to commiserate at the gravity of the situation, I struggle not to burst out laughing like I want to, and instead quietly say, "Well, it's usually sugar, isn't it?"

The woman, who seems very tired, no doubt from endlessly tramping up and down the aisles, sighs deeply.  "I told him we could just use sugar, but he said if the recipe says corn syrup, it has to be corn syrup."

We share a brief, knowing look, smiling at the immutable ways of men, then suddenly I have a memory.  "Wait," I say, closing my eyes, trying to recall it.  "I needed corn syrup for something I was baking last Christmas.  It wasn't in the baking section where it should have been..."  The memory is elusive, but I track my Christmas self through the aisles, until I stand in front of the corn syrup.  Eyes fly open and I smile.  "I know where it is!"

I whip my cart around and with two little ancients trailing behind me, I make my way to the right aisle.  The aisle with maple syrup and oatmeal and pancake mix...and corn syrup.  We stand in front of the shelf, the old man shaking his head.  "I know," I say in agreement, "who would have thought?"  They both look at me, give me big smiles, then thank me so generously, I felt like I'd just saved them from a train wreck.  It was nice and very sweet. 

As I turn away, I realize I'm in the cereal aisle.  Cereal!  That's it!  The missing item I couldn't remember!  I smile and grab a box off the shelf pondering that whoever said no good deed goes unpunished, was very much mistaken.

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