I was checking out at the store the other day when I noticed a gentleman with his two little girls at the counter ahead of me. He had some bread, some lunch meat, and a few other basic grocery necessities and he was counting out his last few coins trying to make sure that he had enough to buy what he brought to the counter. I mean literally, he was counting the last few coins in his pocket.
When it was obvious that he was not going to have enough to pay for it all, he started to pull back some of the things that he could not pay for. I asked the checker to bag it all up for him and to add it to what I was purchasing. It couldn’t have been more that $8 or $9. The man started to object, but I insisted, told him it was not for him, but for his girls. With a teary smile, he thanked me, and shared with me that he was going through a rough time and wanted to make sure his girls, who were visiting with him, had enough to eat.
So am I writing this to pat myself on the back? No. Am I trying to win some sort of sympathy or an “atta boy”? Not at all. I mention this incident because it dragged me back to a very rough time in my life, when I was fighting a brain tumor, not working, and had my own two girls staying with me for the weekend. I too had rolled a lot of coins (primarily pennies) to go to the store to buy some lunch meat and bread to hold us over till I took them back to their mom. The clerk, who obviously knew that the coins I had were not going to cover it all, nonetheless rang it up as if had paid with a platinum card. The look in her eyes told me that it was OK, just take your groceries and go feed your kids. Her words still ring in my ears, “been there, done that.” It was a random act of kindness, a “pay it forward” kind of act.
My mom had the same experience more than once. That lovely woman raised her two boys on a nurses aide salary for many years before she married my dad. There were many times that her salary just didn’t stretch far enough to cover all the expenses. She would go down to the little store down the block in El Paso, appropriately called “The Corner Grocery” and the owner would take one of my mom’s prized Silver Dollars as collateral for groceries for her kids. Imagine that! When payday rolled around, she would go and pay off her debt and recover her coin. My mom always told me that she was absolutely sure that he never charged her as much as he should have when she paid her account.
Many years later I went back to the store with the intention of thanking the owner. Unfortunately, the building was gone and replaced with a convenience store. I went in and out of curiosity asked if anyone knew what happened to the man I only knew as Ralph that owned the store that used to sit on that very spot. Although the clerk had no clue, one of the patrons in the store, who had lived in the neighborhood for years said she knew the story.
After many years of running his business in this generous manner, his kids made him sell the store and sell the property because he could never really make a lot of money. The opportunity to sell the land to a developer to put up a Circle K was too much to turn down. Sensing my disappointment, she asked me why I wanted to know. I told her the story of his generosity, and the desire I had to express my thanks. She told me simply, “you can pay him back by being the kind of person that he was.”
Not an easy task. But whenever I am asked to volunteer for some activity, or to lend a hand to someone who needs it, I think of those two kind clerks who made someone’s life a bit easier by their generosity. It makes the word “no” kind of difficult to say. We all have those opportunities in our lives. We never know when we might make that difference in someone’s life. I know that I am thankful for those made a difference in mine.