Yesterday I went to my two grocery stores for (probably) the last time. I've been doing my Friday afternoon grocery shopping at these two stores since I moved here almost nine years ago. I was nostalgic as I walked the aisles of my co-op. I'm going to miss it. I didn't know it was possible to be so attached to a market. This one's special, though. Worker-owned, wholly meat-free, prone to radical political acts I usually support. They close for Pride every year. The workers recently voted to close for Caesar Chavez's birtday in exchange for staying open on Thanksgiving. I think workers are required to have at least three tattoos. I love that place.
My friend and favorite checker was there -- hooray! We had a nice talk and said our good-byes, promising to stay in touch. Then a friend I haven't seen in ages showed up and we had a chance to talk and say good-bye, too. It was all very sweet.
My second stop on Fridays has always been the Safeway store near my house. It's in a complex with a post office, my bank and the drycleaner I've been going to nearly all these years. I stopped by the drycleaner to say good-bye and thanks to the woman who owns the shop. She's sweet. She has two adorable kids I've watched grow up as they spend afternoons and summer vacations in the shop. They have a new puppy. I saw pictures of the puppy months before it came to live with their family and I know all about its obedience training and temperament. And its "very sharp teeth."
I've worked in service and retail jobs in the past and I never liked it when regular customers with whom I'd developed relationships would just disappear. It tended to make me worry. I think that's why I wanted to say good-bye to people I've been doing business with for all these years. I also wanted to thank them.
Next stop, Safeway. I wanted to say good-bye to Sue, who used to be in charge of the flower department at the front of the store, but who is now an assistant manager. I'd never been in the store's office before, so I had to do some searching. In the process, I saw the employees' break room (bleak!) and the back of the dairy section (clean!). Finally I found the office and Sue was there. I said, "Clean up in the women's restroom!" I couldn't help myself. We laughed. I told her I'm moving away, she said the news made her very sad. She asked for details, like what work I'd be doing, how my husband feels about the move, when we're leaving. She said she'll miss me. I told her I'll miss her, too, and told her I always liked coming into her store, because of her. She said she was going to start crying, and then she did. And then I did. Just a little. We hugged and I got out of there fast, because if I didn't I knew I'd be blubbering all over her office.
Then I stopped at the fish counter and bought supper. The fish guy wished me good luck and told me he'd miss me. "You've been such an excellent customer."
The afternoon sent me back in time to that period in my relationship with this town when I was so often lonely and alienated. I wasn't making friends and in fact my usual ways of making friends were proving completely ineffective. To make matters worse, I worked alone practically all of the time. I remember crying while I said to my husband, "I just want somebody to go to lunch with once in a while. Is that really too much to ask??" There was something about this city -- so big, so hostile -- that hurt my feelings in a deep way. I was often deeply homesick.
Having people like Sue be friendly to me and talk to me about themselves, ask me some questions about myself -- it mattered a lot. It kept me from complete desolation more than once. I can never tell them what it meant to me and what it still means that they broke the social rule of this place to reach out to me. But I appreciate it and never will I take such kindness for granted again.
I'm also taking away an important reminder about the seeds of kindness. We really can never, ever know the effect of our actions. We might think speaking kindly to a stranger is a small thing and we might forget about it moments after it happens. But to that person? It might be the one bright spot in an otherwise miserable week. It really could, in a city like this one, be the only kindness that person experiences that day. Or week.
As I was picking out my corn for supper, a woman came by to sweep up. As she swept, I said, "This corn sure makes a mess, doesn't it?" She looked me right in the eye and said nothing. Earlier that day at the co-op, I had a similar experience. A brief comment meant to connect, to bring a smile, was met with a cold stare and a slight step away. Yesterday, those interactions made me chuckle. Earlier, they could bring me to tears. Krupskaya talks about city manners. I wish someone had given me a course in city manners about nine years ago.
I'm just not going to miss this place.