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Monthly Archives: February 2016

The Awkward Kindness of Strangers

One of the very best t-shirts I ever received as a gift is one that reads: “A girl with a certain, je ne sais quoi.”

It’s pink and is in my cedar chest for the day when Ellie expresses an interest in what her mama used to wear. Who knows? Maybe she’ll also grow into the kind of person with an indescribable “I don’t know what” attitude (I mean. I hope she does, but I can’t know that.)

At the time, the shirt helped me feel pretty and identify myself as someone whose sense of identity is her own. Sometime in high school, I stopped caring about my appearance. I still put an effort into what I looked like, and how I dressed. I just stopped being overly concerned with how others viewed me. It was very liberating.

I do sometimes still wonder what I really look like to strangers? Do they see the sharp profile of my nose? Do they know that I prefer to think of my hair as gingerbread blonde rather than dirty blonde? I just don’t know.

What I do know though, is that apparently when you pay with change at Goodwill, you look like someone who could use a break. Or a helping hand. Maybe both.

Ellie is growing like a 2-year-old wildflower. She comes up to my waist and size 3T shirts are getting too short in the torso. The cuffs barely come to her wrists anymore.

As a result I suggested to my mother-in-law, Nona, that she go shopping with Elle and I today at Goodwill to find some long-sleeved 4T shirts just to get us through the rest of the season. We made our selections and were next in the queue to checkout when Elle very clearly announced “I have to go potty.”

Nona had brought with her, her change purse. They’ve only just moved to Colorado and during their packing found a lot of loose change. As in, a good two or three pounds worth of coins. My father-in-law, the Curmudgeon, teased her that no cashier would want to count out that much money and she, like me, figured that half-price Saturday at Goodwill would mean we wouldn’t rack up that much of a bill.

So while Elle and I are answering the call of nature, Nona is counting out change in orderly piles while the previous person finishes her return (Yep. We got the line where someone wanted to make a return for torn merchandise. To Goodwill.). Ellie and I return and Nona has exactly $15.00 stacked in piles by quarters, dimes, and nickles.

The clothes are all off the hangers, the items rung up and our bill comes to $15.64. I fish the 64 cents out of my wallet and both Nona and I are pretty pleased with our combined math skills. The cashier swipes all of the coins into a pile and begins to recount them.

“You’re a dollar short,” she informs us and then begins to recount the money again.

Nona is a retired elementary school teacher. Counting out coins is the sort of thing she could do in her sleep, but as she starts to get another dollar out of her purse, the man behind us swipes his credit card through the reader and says, “There. Now you’re good. You ladies go treat yourselves to lunch.”

My jaw drops. Not because of what he did, but because we are absolutely not the people most in need of this kindness.

“Thank you,” I tell him. “You really didn’t have to do that.”

I can’t meet his eyes. He’s wearing a flannel jacket and has a small pile of clothes in his arms.

“Don’t worry about it and have a nice rest of your day.”

Nona and I leave Goodwill and don’t speak another word to one another until we get to the car. A car that I maintain myself and recently invested $300 in for its 100,000-plus-mile preventive maintenance. There we try and figure out why we appeared so shabby and resolve that maybe we need to look a little less clueless the next time we go to Goodwill.

That, and decide that the $15.64 for Ellie’s new shirts needs to go to a good cause since I will not be able to look at the shirts that we picked out for her and not think of the fact that some stranger was willing to buy my daughter clothes. I think SafeHouse Denver might be a good place to start.

Either that, or the Denver Aquarium because I sure feel like an awkward turtle after that whole exchange.

~*La.

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