He had a cane, so he must’ve been able to walk — at least to a degree. But he sat forlornly on a grocery store scooter in front of self-checkout lane 6.
I watched as customer after customer, clerk after clerk, passed him by, going busily about their own tasks. I wondered momentarily if he needed help, but didn’t want to insult him. So I proceeded to self-checkout lane 2. I swiped my valued customer card across the scanner, grateful to have avoided a line. Every self-checkout lane was occupied, and only one regular lane was open — and the line for it was six-people long and spilling into grocery aisle 8, seasonal items and snacks.
I wondered if, on my way out, I should tell the self-checkout lane attendant that I thought the elderly man on the scooter might need some help. As I started to pull groceries from my basket, I watched him gingerly maneuver his scooter — cane jutting out in front — away from the self-checkout lanes and into the ever-lengthening line a few feet away. Evidently, he had given up on trying to use the self-checkout, opting instead for a longer line, but guaranteed assistance.
I left my cart.
“Sir,” I said, coming up beside him. He turned to face me. He wore a simple black baseball cap embroidered with the words “WWII VETERAN” in white lettering. “Did you want some help with the self-checkout lane?”
He nodded and said yes. By then, someone had already taken his spot, so I led him to mine, his scooter quietly whirring behind me. He offered me his customer card, and I began to scan his groceries. Just three items. Fried chicken, buns and Hershey’s Kisses.
I told him his total and placed his items in a brown plastic bag. He gave me $10 for the automated clerk, and I collected his change and handed it to him.
“Thank you,” he said, humbly and kindly.
“You’re welcome,” I said.
He whirred past me and out into the sun through the automatic doors. I pulled my cart back into position, looking around briefly to see if anyone had noticed what had just taken place. Nothing. No eye contact. It seemed no one had recognized this act of love and human connection that had just taken place right in front of them — just as no one had seemed to notice a fellow man — a war veteran, at that — in need of help. Even I had been slow to offer assistance.
I scanned and bagged my own groceries and felt grateful and happy all the way home. I let my dogs out, put away my Nutri-Grain bars, ice cream, grapefruit, Gatorade. And then it occurred to me, as I sat down to lunch in a free country, that I should’ve thanked him.
Amanda S. Creasey holds a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Denver and a bachelor’s degree in German from Michigan State University. She works as a high school English teacher, and is a dog lover, writer, runner and hobbyist gardener working on becoming a novelist and a certified life coach. She maintains Mind the Dog Writing Blog (named for her dogs), and can be found at amandasuecreasey.com.