I wasn’t in a hurry, but I had somewhere to be. All of the lines in Target seemed long, so I chose the one closest to me. Already at the conveyor belt an elderly woman was emptying her cart. Her leisurely pace was indicative of her age. I considered changing lines, but when I glanced down the rows I noticed the other lines had grown longer. I decided to stay in line behind her. As I said, I was in no particular rush.
As she finished unloading her cart, the cashier announced her balance. Ten dollars and five cents. She had to repeat herself three times. The elderly woman’s caregiver explained that she has difficulty hearing, and repeated the cashier holding up ten and then five fingers. The elderly lady opened up her coin purse, something I haven’t seen in a while, and began digging through change. One by one she pulled pennies from the little pouch.
“Would you like me to help?” Her caregiver asked reaching for the pouch.
“I’m eighty six. I’m not dead.” The woman told her with a pointed finger and more sass than I expected. She wasn’t rude, but sharp – humored even.
She began telling the woman behind the counter that she had lived in California for most of her life. She explained that her father left her mother while she was pregnant, and not wanting to shame the family as an unwed mother she placed her up for adoption.
Unbeknownst to her at the time, her father remarried and had five more children. All boys. She continued telling the cashier the story about her childhood without them, and how her adopted parents didn’t really want her either. She told her that a year ago one of her brothers reached out for the first time in her life and that finally they met.
“He’s a Sheriff in Colorado, and he’d been looking for me all this time.” she told the cashier proudly.
I had become so intrigued by this woman and her story that I forgot for a moment that we were still in line at a shopping center. I was only reminded by the exaggerated huff of the woman behind me. She collected her items off the belt, and left to occupy a line that was moving at a faster pace.
Aware of the impatient woman’s reaction the elderly woman let her sentence trail off. She helped her caregiver place her bags into her shopping cart, and took the receipt from the cashier folding it gingerly and tucking it back into the pouch she pulled the pennies from.
The elderly woman turned to me, and we made eye contact for the very first time.
“You’ll probably never know what it’s like to spend your entire life thinking that no one in the world wanted you… and to find out almost too late that someone always did. Don’t wait that long.”
She smiled at me, but behind her eyes there was an ache that spoke volumes. I felt my cheeks grow warm, and tears brimmed against them. The cashier told the woman very softly that she was thankful to have her in her line, and to come back soon. I hadn’t fully recovered from the conversation before the cashier addressed me.
“Thank you for your patience.” She said without prompting.
“My patience?” I asked.
“Many people don’t realize that this is the only interaction that many people her age have with strangers.”
“Not a problem.” I told her. “It was truly my pleasure.”
As I took my receipt the cashier looked at me sincerely. “ Thank you again. It was a pleasure to have you in my lane today as well.”
I cried as I left Target that day, which probably surprises no one. I was overwhelmed by the conversation and how much it affected me, but also by how abruptly it ended. I looked for the woman on my way out, but she was gone.
I was shocked that the cashier felt the need to thank me. That the woman behind me hadn’t waited to hear the end of the story. That I almost considered changing lanes myself. I wished that I had said more to the elderly woman, but decided that maybe I didn’t need to. Maybe all she wanted was for someone to hear her.
is a writer, artist and human/animal rights activist based in Echo Park- Los Angeles, CA. The Stephens College graduate loves poetry, camping with her rowdy friends and tequila of many varieties.