I was already frustrated before I made it to the front of the line and realized there was no bag boy. The store was crowded and it had taken longer than I anticipated. My family was waiting for me in the car, impatiently, I was sure. So I was relieved to hear the kind hello as I searched for my discount card.

When I looked up, she had already gotten to work sorting through the groceries that were working their way down the conveyor belt, but she made a point to glance up and nod politely to me. Her mouth spread to a smile, taking the attention away from the deep wrinkles around it.

The shiny tag on her smock read “My name is Margaret.”

She worked steadily, awkwardly mixing cold items with dry goods and fresh fruits with cans, filling the bags a bit too full, and stacking them haphazardly in the shopping cart.

Twice she turned away to blow her runny nose, as discreetly as is possible in a busy store. “I think I’m allergic,” she said, making a sweeping motion toward the potted lilies on display at the end of all the check-out lanes. “It quits as soon as I leave here. I take a pill, but it doesn’t help,” she added.

I nodded my understanding. “I’ve been having some trouble with allergies too.”

I felt like I should help her, but something about her high cheekbones and straight posture told me that would be a mistake.

I couldn’t help but wonder, was this a job she wanted, or was she here because she had to be? Maybe she’d been widowed, and needed to get away from her empty house. Maybe she just wanted to have someplace to go and a schedule to keep. Maybe hard times had caught up with her and she didn’t have a choice.

Was there someone at home waiting for her to get off work? Did she have children nearby? Grandchildren? She was old enough to be my grandmother. Why was Margaret working night shift at a supermarket on Good Friday?

She placed the last bag, full of cans, into the cart on top of the others. “You didn’t have any bread, right? No, no you didn’t. Whew! It would’ve been squished if you did.” She smiled again. “You have a nice day.”

“I hope your allergies clear up,” I said.

She gave me a quick thank-you nod, and turned toward the next customer’s groceries, which were already coming her way.

I pushed my cart to the car, and fielded the expected complaints from my husband and kids for taking too long, but I paid them little mind. We were going to go home together and color eggs, and hide eggs, and have a big family dinner on Easter Sunday. I was looking forward to it.

I’ve thought about Margaret several times and wondered if she was looking forward to something like that, too. I sure hope she was.




This week I’m linking up with the great crowd over at Yeah Write!

Comments (13)

  1. Kristin

    I often wonder about the people I see, too.
    Kristin recently posted..What’s in a Name?My Profile

  2. Joe

    I, too, sometimes wonder about the backstory behind the people I meet and I can’t stop myself from filling the missing details.
    Joe recently posted..The Twilight ZoneMy Profile

  3. Ericamos

    It always breaks my heart to see older people working in retail. It makes me also wonder what brought them to this position. My cousin has worked at a grocery chain since she was a teenager and has been working her way up and up. Currently, she is a district manager with aspirations of having her own store to fully manage. So when I see the elderly behind the check-out, I know this was a job they obtained in their adult years, and it makes me sad.
    Ericamos recently posted..Say My NameMy Profile

  4. Louise Ducote

    You did what you could: you treated her like a person, not a servant, ignored her lack of bagging skills and gave her the respect of not interfering. Two minutes of kindness from a stranger can make a Friday night shift a whole lot better. . .
    Louise Ducote recently posted..A Million Good OnesMy Profile

  5. Kate

    Maybe she is the bagging fairy and was there just to make your day easier before moving on?!
    Kate recently posted..Check your labels and your ego at the doorMy Profile

  6. icescreammama

    I wonder about people i encounter through my days as well, and now you’ve made me wonder about margaret too. we all have a story..

  7. Tomekha

    I had a similar experience recently. My cashier was much younger though. I wondered if she needed that job to help her through school.
    Tomekha recently posted..A Moment Of StrengthMy Profile

  8. kirsten oliphant

    Sometimes it’s just these little moments that have a profound effect. Love the way you depicted this.
    kirsten oliphant recently posted..The Writerly Blog HopMy Profile

  9. gem

    I! too sometimes wonder about strangers. Today, a homeless man asked my familuly for money as we loaded our car with groceries. A woman across the parking lane offered him a water and we handed him a bag of chips. I hope he enjoyed them and that it somehow brightened his unfortunate position.
    gem recently posted..Country in the countryMy Profile

  10. Daffodil Campbell

    I find myself wondering that more and more often these days. So many people are working at jobs that don’t seem to quite fit – because they are simply glad to be working. This was a great piece, loved the little details.
    Daffodil Campbell recently posted..When is it time to think about medicating a kid?My Profile

  11. IASoupMama

    I often wonder about people this way, too. I wonder if it is because storytellers are always looking for the story?
    IASoupMama recently posted..Potty-PootMy Profile

  12. that cynking feeling

    Someone tweeted the link to this post the other day, and my first thought was, “I hope she links this to the Yeah Write grid.” So glad that you did!
    that cynking feeling recently posted..The Dos and Don’ts of Describing AutismMy Profile

  13. Stacie

    I am sure she appreciated your kindness and, hopefully, went home to someone special!
    Stacie recently posted..MainstreamingMy Profile


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