I’ve been going through some old columns, written over the years for a variety of community newspapers or niche magazines. Someone suggested I compile them into a book.
That seems like a lot of work, so just for kicks (and to keep the blog fresh) I thought I’d start sharing them here. Up first: one of my favorites, written about the kid who checked out my groceries. I imagine Spencer now, drifting his way across the country and charming middle-aged moms from coast to coast. Keep the dream alive, kiddo …
Youth and Groceries
by Joanne Brokaw
At the grocery store today I watched Spencer, the checkout boy, as he talked a blue streak to the middle aged mom ahead of me in line, exuding youthful energy as he scanned broccoli and toilet paper, bantering with her young boy about how great it is to be sick because you get to miss school and watch cartoons all day.
When it was my turn in line, he greeted me with his usual “How’s it going? Did you find everything you were looking for?” and then suddenly said, “You have amazing eyes. What color are they? Blue? Green?”
“I don’t know,” I replied, a bit startled. “It kind of depends on what color I’m wearing, I guess.”
“You don’t know? Well, you’re wearing grey so today they’re blue. Piercing blue-green. Great eyes.” He flashed his surfer smile and shook his shaggy bangs out of his eyes as he stuffed my tilapia and cat food into a bag.
The grey he was referring to could have been the old grey hooded sweatshirt I was wearing, or the dark circles underneath my eyes that come from a lack of sun or sleep, or maybe from the stray grey hair that was poking out from my messy ponytail. Either way, it was clearly not a come on; I have leftovers in my refrigerator older than this kid. It’s just his natural personality, his ease with himself and with others, his ability to simply make conversation, unable to not converse.
I’d seen Spencer once before, stood in line while he carried on a lengthy conversation with a little girl about her favorite pop star, oblivious to the chaos in the store, focusing only on the girl as he methodically scanned her mother’s groceries. I had told him then that he was good with kids and asked if he had younger brothers or sisters. He’d said he had sisters. Older sisters? I’d asked. Are you the baby of the family? He’d laughed and asked how I knew.
“You’re quite the talker, Spencer,” I told him today as I swiped my discount card.
He shook his bangs again and grinned. “They tell me I’m a smooth talker.”
“That smooth talking could serve you well in life, depending on what you want to do.” I was thinking law or business. This kid could sell ice cubes to Eskimos. “What are you, in high school? Just graduating?”
He smiled and nodded. “I’m going to be a drifter. I decided that way back in second grade.”
“Well, you’re certainly cut out for that kind of life, kiddo,” I said as I grabbed my bags. “I can see you now, smooth talking your way across the country, then living the surfer life.”
“Really?” he asked, almost serious. “That’s so cool. Have a great day!”
As I walked to my car, I tried to remember what it felt like to be that age, to not be encumbered with the knowledge of mortgage payments and deadlines and car repair bills, to still dream, to be so exuberant about life that you couldn’t help but share that energy with everyone you came in contact with.
I thought about that as I remembered my frustrations with other drivers today, my sadness at the fact that my cat is dying, my exhaustion at life, and realized that sometimes all you need to brighten your day is a dose of youthful innocence and a glimpse at the promise of all life has to offer.
So thanks, Spencer, for not putting the milk on top of the bread, and for reminding me that if you have to interact with people you can choose to do it with a smile and make them feel special in the process.
(This column was originally published 2007 and ran in The Desert Voice newspaper, El Centro, CA)
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