I chatted with the checker at the grocery store. It was my second time in the store that day. It wasn’t a store where I normally shopped. We were staying with my son and we would be having Thanksgiving dinner at my daughter’s home. Her husband would fry a turkey. My assignment was to bring a pie and dressing, potatoes and a vegetable. I was a little harried, thinking about the things I needed to gather in a kitchen I did not normally use. I was distracted by not knowing the aisles of the store.
My son is special in many ways. He is my hero. His occupational therapist, when he was four, told me he would never drive a car or play sports. He drives just fine and he played varsity basketball in high school, scoring three point shots during some of the final games in his senior year. He had a generous and compassionate coach, a man I want to kiss every time I see him. My son breaks into a cold sweat of anxiety every time he meets someone, his face draining of color, but he has held the same job for over ten years. He arrives one hour early every week day so he will not be late. He makes us laugh and we try to adapt to his need for consistency. So, when I look in the faces of young men, I see my son. However, on this day, I was frustrated by his kitchen and pantry.
Complaining about these details, I suppose the young man checking me out decided to commiserate with me, noting it was difficult, remembering when his mother prepared Thanksgiving meals. He said he had not been at her table in over six years, since she died of cancer when he was in high school. He was waiting on his father to call him and let him know when he would be arriving, so they could share a meal together. He looked forward to the visit, knowing his father would take him to a real restaurant, not the fast food he had grown accustomed to eating. He wasn’t sure they would have turkey, but he didn’t care. “I just want some good cooking,” Brandon said. I noticed the name embroidered on the red vest he wore.
“Holidays can be hard,” he said. “My dad lives out of state. He doesn’t always get to come, and I never have money for gas, so I don’t get to go there often. But, he’s coming now, and I’m excited to see him.”
“Well,” I said. “That will be nice. How long will he stay?” I was already feeling a little guilty about the complaining.
“Oh, he’ll just be here over night. He has to get back to work. A friend of his is coming down and offered him a ride. He wanted to come, though. It’ll be the first time I’ve seen him since my brother died in Iraq. I didn’t get to go to the funeral.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” I said, taken aback by the tragedy in the young man’s life. I complained about cooking for my family, finding things on store aisles, but this kid was still smiling, telling me about how he was looking forward to going to a restaurant to eat with his father, who could only be there because of the kindness of a friend offering a ride. I knew I could do more than say I’m sorry. It made no sense that many families would be together with an abundance, and this boy and his father were struggling just to be in the same town with each other.
He was polite, continuing to smile and make small talk. I had entered the store with a bag full of coins. I always cleaned my son’s room and the kitchen counter, where he dropped his belongings when he got in from work. He is single and lives alone, but he allows us to impose on him from time to time. He has Asperger Syndrome, and I cannot say how many times my heart has ached at how cruel people can be, but there have been just as many times when he has been shown incredible kindness. Those times, are the ones that bring me to tears.
Weeks go by and his pile of coins multiplies each day. I am always surprised when I take the bag to that machine in the front of the grocery store, and the receipt spits out at me with an incredible amount of money printed on it. On this day, I intended to pay for my groceries with that receipt, anticipating at least a hundred dollars in change. Instead, I ran my debit card for payment of my groceries. When I was replacing the card, I noticed the gift card I received for my birthday to my favorite chain restaurant. I had not had the opportunity to use it. I took it out and handed it to Brandon with my coin receipt.
“These are yours, Brandon. You take your father out to eat,” I said. “Be sure to tell him how good you are at your job and how much you touch the people who come to your register. You remind me that there is much to be thankful for.”
Brandon stood with his mouth open, looking at me. “Thank you mam,” he said more than once.
“You are welcome.” I looked at his face, thinking of my son. He would not have the social skills to do Brandon’s job the way he did it, but they reminded me of each other. We are all connected, I thought.