I wasn’t feeling very kind. I was in a rush. I’m always in a rush, but especially today, when I stopped at the grocery store to frantically buy the one thing I needed for dinner.
It was to be a quick trip; easy in, easy out. I got a parking spot up close and knew exactly which aisle to aim for, and where the 15 & under items registers were located, and which clerks were the fastest.
I had this.
I grabbed the rice off the shelf and headed to the express check out lane, with only one older couple in front of me, the wife digging through her purse, and her husband, taking items off the belt looking at them closely, then placing them back on. Sometimes.
They were older, not ancient, but maybe late 70s, although she seemed somehow both younger in her sing-song voice, but older in her eyes, when she glanced up and realized someone else – me – was in line behind them and they were holding up the quick lane. The express lane.
They obviously had more than 15 items, and I was frustrated because 15 means 15 – seriously, can’t you people count, and my frustration was evident as I stood on tippy toes to see over the tops of the candy racks, searching for a faster line in the store but found none, and I’m not proud of it, but I may have huffed. Loudly.
But then the wife mouthed to me Alzheimer’s.
Her husband was trying very hard to understand what to do about leaving the items on the belt, yet he kept lifting them off – one by one, with deliberate, precise movements, and holding them just above the belt, while the black rubber belt spun empty around and around just beneath his fingers and the canned corn.
Yet she was so patient. Tapping his hand gently, and saying softly, you can leave that there dear, it’s okay. We’ll pay for it then bring it home. This happened again and again, each can, box, bag and carton lifted, and held hovering in place, instead of being zipped down the belt, scanned, bagged and bought. This was going to be a while.
Nutbrown Hare lessons on aging
It was then that I noticed the man had a smaller paperback copy of Sam McBratney’s famous children’s book ‘Guess How Much I Love You in his back pocket.
You know it. We all know it. If you have kids, or ever were a kid, you KNOW this book.
“Honey, show the nice lady your book,” the wife said to her husband, while she continued to put bread, eggs, and little cans of fruit cocktail on the belt. He looked away from the groceries and mesmerizing belt, and his eyes finding mine. They were astonishingly alive, happy and bright which surprised me but I don’t know why. His hand swung immediately to his back right pocket, pulling out the faded, worn, very much loved paperback children’s book, corners rolled and bent from being shoved in and out of that pocket probably a thousand times. He never let out of his hands, but extended toward me so I could see.
“Guess How Much I Love You”
Little Nutbrown Hare. I read to my own boys over and over again, probably every mom or dad did at some time. Little Nutbrown wanted Big Nutbrown Hare to reassure him, again and again, just how much he was loved. It was obviously something he always had with him, tucked safely in his pants’ pocket; it was warped to fit, like a wallet someone had for decades.
I was surprised at the book, that book, and his wife seemed to know this, and began to explain without ever looking up, bagging her own groceries, lifting into the cart, paying the cashier.
“Do you know it? It’s all about going back to being a child. My husband really loves it, says it makes him feel good. Reads it all the time, and will share it with anyone who listens.“
“All done, honey, let’s go home,” she said, then apologized again for holding me up, thanked me for my patience, smiled, and left. Her husband safely tucked the book back into his pocket, and followed her out the door, never looking back to hear me thank them, and see me save good-bye
This encounter was originally posted on Newtown resident Kathleen Schroeder’s Facebook page. Much of the story remains unchanged, with only some editorial liberties taken on my part. Kathleen is a Connecticut artist specializing in relief printing, raising cool chickens and cooler children, and sharing amazing stories. She doesn’t have a website, or else I’d link it here.