I heard her before I saw her in the crowded store. “Man, those chips look good! I think I need to get me some of those,” she exclaimed.
My son had just thrown a bag of Tostitos Scoops into our cart, an item I had forgotten but needed for a dip I was making. We were in the checkout line and it looked like it was going to be awhile before we could head home.
Checkout lines before Chicago’s first snowstorm of the season look a lot like a Beyoncé concert before the gates open, except with far less swag. Long, winding and full of people looking impatient.
My swag caught the eye of the woman in front of me in the checkout line. She asked me to watch her cart while she went to find her own bag of Scoops. As I pushed her cart forward in line, I could not help but notice its contents: four containers of bited-sized strudel, every flavor of Oreo cookies, chocolate-covered pretzels, three kinds of potato chips, 84 bottles of diet soda, a few bags of candy bars, chocolate-marshmallow cookies, two tubs of ice cream, Cheez Whiz and frosted brownies. Buried at the bottom, barely visible, was a bottle of fish oil. I was not sure that last item would be enough to stave off the heart attack and diabetes that awaited in her cart. I have been known to unwittingly steal grocery carts but I think this one may have been a bit much for me to ever mistake it for my own.
When she came back and tossed the Scoops into her cart, she smiled and said, “I should never come to the grocery store when I’m hungry.”
Bit of an understatement.
Don’t ask me how I knew—but she wasn’t throwing a party. At least not for other people. This cart had pity party written all over it—and so did her eyes. I remembered last year at this time, just before the holidays. I had just broken off a serious relationship. I was heartbroken and feeling fragile. The Gilmore Girls (yes, every single season) and an obscene amount of feta cheese and garlic on baguette rounds kept me sane. Perhaps with some Baconator fries thrown in for good measure one too many times.
But her cart—her cart screamed I Hurt. I Hurt A Lot. I didn’t know why and I wasn’t about to ask her. But, it was a huge reminder to me that this time of year can be really hard for a lot of people. All that joy we know we are supposed to be feeling. The families with trees atop the car, kids flying down the sledding hill, the hustle and bustle—all can make someone feeling sad and lonely that much more sad and lonely.
I smiled at my ravenous fellow shopper and said, “I get it. Believe me. I shop all the wrong aisles when I am super hungry.”
By this time, the bagger was putting the last of this woman’s groceries into her cart. As she tore open a bag of Oreos and stuffed three into her mouth, she smiled at me and said, “Mewwy Kwiffmuff!”
Indeed. I wished her one back and I truly meant it.