‘Where is it?” she said, loud enough for all of us around her to hear, three ladies and a little girl standing in the aisle of the drug store. She was frustrated, it seemed, her words punctuated by a small sigh. She pushed her hard plastic shopping buggy a little farther down the aisle, followed by the little girl. “Where is it?” she said again and it became one of those moments where you don’t know if you should answer or just leave her alone. I turned, the words poised on my tongue...
Someone beat me to it.
“Where is what, dear?” a woman with short white hair asked her. The handle of her shopping basket sat in the crook of her arm, a box of band aids and a package of light bulbs inside. I held a roll of paper towels and a bottle of ibuprofen tablets that made noise as I shifted them from one arm to the other, standing still and waiting. I wasn’t eavesdropping. I was paying attention.
“Where is Thanksgiving?” the woman asked, and with that she reached with both arms outstretched across the aisle and picked up a bag of chocolate Halloween candy in one hand and a snowman Christmas globe in the other. Tiny silver glitter snow flurried in the globe as she sat it back down on the shelf.
“Here is candy corn. The Pilgrims ate corn!” the little girl piped in, picking up a bag of the orange and yellow candy and handing it to her mother. The woman with white hair laughed. The other one didn’t.
“Candy corn is not Thanksgiving,” she said curtly and plopped the bag back on the shelf. My eyes met the little girls’ as if to tell her that I thought her idea was great, that candy corn could be Thanksgiving. The Indians and the Pilgrims did eat corn. So maybe it wasn’t candy corn but it was corn. Good thinking, I tried to tell her with my eyes. Good thinking.
“What exactly are you looking for?” the older woman asked. She held her shopping basket with both hands now and looked the woman squarely in the eye. “What is it you need?”
The woman with the buggy backed up a step and straightened her blouse. A small, nervous laugh escaped her lips. Not defiant so much or stubborn. Aggravated.
“I’m disgusted to see Halloween candy on my left and Christmas on my right. No sign of Thanksgiving anywhere,” she said and suddenly I felt a pang of guilt for having just contemplated buying a package of peanut butter chocolate pumpkins, half off, and a package of polka dot Christmas bows.
The woman with the short white hair shook her head and ran her hand lovingly over the little girl’s hair as she let out a soft chuckle. “You really don’t know what you’re looking for, do you?” she said. And then, like one of those random strangers you encounter out of the clear blue who make an inspirational mark on your day when you very least expect it, the woman with the short white hair reached into her shopping basket and said, “See these Band Aids here? My 91-year-old father fell this morning and has a cut on his forehead. I’m thankful that all I am having to buy today is Band Aids and that I didn’t lose him.”
“I hope he’s okay,” a little voice, the little girl, said. “You know, they have Barbie Band Aids, too.” And the three of us smiled.
“If you’re looking for Thanksgiving, dear, you aren’t going to find it here,” the woman with short white hair said as she turned to leave. “You should be living it every day.”
“Thank you,” the woman whispered, then picked up the bag of candy corn and handed it back to her daughter. “You were right, baby. The Pilgrims did eat corn.” The little girl smiled. And they were on their way.
Sometimes random strangers can make a big difference when we least expect it. We just have to pay attention. And be thankful. Every day.
Contact columnist Mandy Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org.