Every year around this time I make a pilgrimage to a foreign land. Like all pilgrimages, it requires mental and spiritual preparation. Sometimes I get lost on my journey. Or I arrive, only to wander aimlessly.
Today was the day. My course was straight and true and I found my way without a single misstep. My destination? The Albertson’s on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway. It’s the only place in town where you will find this:
Other than this yearly pilgrimage and to visit my mother’s grave, I pretty much avoid this part of town. I was excited by the prospect of filling my cupboard with matzoh as well as making a gift in a new venue.
The store was practically deserted, which seemed odd. I browsed through the Passover shelves, amazed as always by the variety and, frankly, the strangeness of some of the items. Matzoh, for example. There’s regular matzoh, Israeli matzoh, egg matzoh, whole wheat matzoh, extra religious (shmurah) matzoh, matzoh crackers, gluten free matzoh and now “Mediterranean” matzoh which is flavored with olive oil and herbs. Not to mention the chocolate-covered matzoh. It didn’t used to be this complicated.
I finished getting what I needed, trying along the way to make small talk with the few fellow shoppers I encountered. People were not in the friendliest of moods and I made a couple of false starts before deciding to put my groceries in the car and regroup.
I loaded up the trunk, keeping my eye out for potential recipients. I wandered over to Rite-Aid, which is a huge store next door to Albertson’s. I took a spin around the entire place. Other than a few employees, it was 100% deserted. Weird. And kind of surreal. I know this was uncalled for, but I found myself feeling smug about our decision 18 years ago to settle on the other side of town.
I decided I would give Albertson’s one more chance and went back into the store. A few more people had come in and were milling around the Passover area. One couple caught my eye: a woman with long gray hair and a man with glasses, and a cap on his head. He had a Bruce Springsteen vibe that intrigued me, and an amazing pair of hand-made looking leather shoes.
They were standing in front of the shelf of Passover goodies and I heard the woman say, “This stuff, we’re not getting. These prices are ridiculous. It’s just way too expensive.” I agreed completely and had just been telling myself the same thing.
They headed off into a different part of the store. I caught up with them a few aisles over. “Excuse me,” I said. “Yes?” I explained that I was paying forward a gift and had something I would like to give them. I was surprised by the woman’s response, as she rushed to explain her comments of a few minutes earlier. “Oh, thank you, but that’s okay! I’m just cheap! Really, we’re fine. Give it to someone else.”
“Like who?” I asked. “Who should I pick?” It felt urgent to convey to her that these decisions are not so easy. She waved her hand toward the Passover shelves. “Give it to someone with kids. That’s who needs it. Go over there and you’ll see someone.” I laughed and suggested that she should pick someone herself. “I already picked someone!” I argued. “I picked you!”
She thanked me again, wished me luck and strode off. The man in the amazing shoes hadn’t said a word the entire time. I felt somewhat defeated, and oddly burdened by the woman’s directive. I was continuing the argument with her in my head. “If you wanted someone with kids to have it, you should have taken it yourself and given it away, lady! I’ll give it to whomever I want. Maybe someone who doesn’t even LIKE kids.”
As productive as this was, I managed to shut myself up. I caught a glance of the couple at the checkout as I left the store and planted myself outside the door, unsure of my next move. Then I saw a little girl take her mother’s hand briefly then break away, skipping toward the store entrance. The woman was holding a baby in her other arm, and they were accompanied by another woman who was clearly a relative. “Okay, go!” I told myself.
“Can I have a word with you?” I asked the older woman as they got close. I recognized her skeptical look. “What kind of word?” she asked. “A friendly one!” I answered with a chuckle, but I knew I better make it quick.
I explained that I was honoring my mother by paying forward a gift. “How are you doing that?” the woman wanted to know. “Like this,” I answered, and I held out the hundred. The baby grabbed a hold of it and the little girl smiled wide.
The younger woman thanked me and said that my mother must be proud. Then she tucked the bill into her own mother’s hand. “Here, you’re going to take this.”
Just then, the couple from before came out of the store. I looked at the little girl. “Say thank you to that lady,” I suggested. “She’ll know why.”
“Thank you!” said the little girl. The gray-haired woman gave a little wave and looked me in the eye. “Thank you,” she mouthed.
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