Last December I had something happen to me in a grocery store that had never happened to me before. Or to anyone I know, for that matter.
It was just a few days before Christmas and Banjo Man and I were at the local HEB several blocks away from the condo. I had a very long list, so Banjo Man and I had separate carts and agreed to meet up eventually, somehow, when we were both finished with shopping.
By the time I was about 2/3 done, my cart was piled high with chicken, sausage, cheese, vegetables, milk, eggs, etc. If you looked at my cart you would understand that here was a woman who cooked from scratch–for a lot of people–and also needed a lot of paper towels.
I had just pushed my cart through a crowded health food aisle when a young woman called after me, “Ma’am! Ma’am?”
I stopped and turned around. My first thought was that I had done something wrong when picking up peppermint oil (enclosed in a steal-proof plastic case, to be opened at the register).
She didn’t confiscate my oil. Instead she gestured towards a tall young man standing about ten feet away in the midst of shoppers jockeying for spots at the crowded registers. “My husband and I would like to buy your groceries today.”
“Excuse me?” I looked at my overflowing cart and then back to her.
“We’d like to buy your groceries today,” she repeated, pushing a folded bill into my hand. “Merry Christmas!”
I was stunned. All I could say was, “Thank you so much.” And “Merry Christmas.” They waved joyously and wandered off, clearly looking for other shoppers who might need some extra cash.
I unfolded the bill: one hundred dollars. I honestly didn’t know what to do. If I gave the money back to them, explaining I didn’t especially need help buying groceries and they should pick someone else, that would be rude. I would embarrass them. Better to let them enjoy their morning of gift-giving surprise?
I still don’t know.
Had I looked poor? Was that their criteria? I was dressed neatly enough–not that anyone in Austin ever cares what anyone wears. I wore makeup. And maybe even lipstick, but maybe not.
I know I looked happy–unlike my usual grocery-shopping persona. I was thoroughly enjoying getting the ingredients for all of the meals I was going to cook for my family. I’d had an organized list and a pretty good idea where everything was located. The store was crowded, but it almost always is. I imagine I looked like I was having a good time, because I was. My family was going to be together around the dinner table. Joy!
Had that been their criteria? Find someone who looked happy about making a lot of meals?
I’ll never know. Just like I’ll never really know what I should have done.
Once I’d connected with Banjo Man and ended up at the register, I made a donation to the Salvation Army. But to be honest, I would have done that anyway. It’s my tradition, a way to honor my World War II veteran father who always donated to them at Christmas and always became choked up with tears when he did.
The hundred dollar bill is still in my purse, tucked safely in a zipper compartment. I take it out and look at it once in a while. A reminder that people find joy in giving? That life still has surprises, even in the grocery store?
I’ll keep the money safe for now. One of these days there will be a moment when I’ll know what to do with it, when to pass it on, the perfect time to share the gift.
What I think the sweet couple in the grocery store would have wanted.