Friday, August 25, 2017

Chronicles of Life in Small Stone, Arkansas: For the Fun of It (Because Sometimes We Need to Laugh)

So this happened today: 

"You look familiar. What church do you go to?" says the lady shopping at Michael's with a lhasa apso and a shih tzu named Toby and Molly in her shopping cart. "What's your name?"

I tell her my name, and to the church question I respond, "None."

"Well what church did you go to?" I give her a name, and then hear much of her life story and about her ministry, which is a bit opaque to me — something involving doing hair of ladies in nursing homes and preparing funeral announcements.

Do encounters like this happen only in the South?

"There's Elton John!" a group of excited tourists in the French Quarter in New Orleans once screamed from their touring buggy, pointing at me.

And, "Oh my God, you're Jimmy Carter's brother Billy, aren't you?" a man in a park in North Carolina once said to me.

And the following has happened on previous shopping expeditions or doctors' office visits — chronicles from my Facebook feed about life in Small Stone, Arkansas, A.D. 2016-2017:


Steve and I did our usual "gray-haired" shopping expedition for groceries after he came home at lunchtime on Tuesday recently. And there, smack-dab in the middle of produce, was the lady who is crazy about bananas, the one who pulls a single banana from a bunch until she has filled a bag full of what she regards as "perfect" bananas. The one who, if the cashier touches the bag of bananas, screams, "Lord Jesus! No! Don't touch my bananas!"

She insists on putting them on the scanner herself. Steve has had lengthy and . . . interesting . . . conversations with her in the banana section of the produce area, where she can spend a half hour amassing a single bag of perfect bananas.

But this Tuesday, it was grapes. She had ensconced herself and the motorized shopping cart she drives next to the shelves of grapes, and was — as spry as any spring chicken — standing and hovering over the grapes, going from bag to bag (the bunches are all wrapped in plastic) selecting what must evidently have been perfect snips of the pre-bagged bunches and placing them in another bag.

Each little dribble of a bunch of grapes she selected, she'd waltz — again, I say, as spry as a spring chicken, though she uses a motorized shopping cart — over to the scales, on the other side of the produce department, to weigh them. Then back she'd come and finger more bunches of grapes until she had found a few more to pull off and place in her bag of perfect grapes . . .

As an elderly lady and I waited to get through the aisle the fruit lady and her daughter had blocked with the shopping cart. . . .The elderly lady politely asked if she, too, might approach the grapes, and quite the kerfuffle ensued, as the young woman tried to find a place to park the motorized cart and her mother resolutely continued guarding the grape display to find yet more perfect snippets of grapes to add to her bag.

This woman is a character. She's as lithe as a dancer and has a beautiful dancer-like gait and way of moving. Her gracefulness was accentuated this past Tuesday by a long, elegant, multi-colored tie-dyed skirt with a vibrant blouse above it. She also was wearing a kind of tignon in yet more vibrant colors, tied around the back of her neck, under a straw hat that looked like something fit for the beach — as the tie-dyed skirt did, too.

I wonder what her story is.


The lady with the banana fetish ("Lord Jesus, no — don't you touch my bananas!") was at Kroger today for old folks' shopping. Turns out she has an egg fetish, too.

We passed her in the dairy aisle having quite a confab with the poor young woman overseeing that part of the store, as banana-fetish lady grabbled through cartons of eggs and complained that eggs A and eggs B were the same product but priced differently.

Something like that.

I encountered banana-fetish lady last week on old folks' shopping day when I was having a nice conversation with a Kroger employee whose name I could see on her name tag, but which I was not sure how to pronounce. I really like this person, who is so upbeat, friendly, and nice, so I asked her how to pronounce her name so that I can call her by name.

It was a mistake to ask that question as banana-fetish lady approached with her cart, since we both got a lecture on how unheard of that name is and how I'll never meet another person with that name. Then off she sailed with her cart, talking a mile a minute to herself, as she does anytime I pass her in most aisles of the store.


Whether it's 100 degrees or 20, there's a lady we routinely encounter on our shopping outings who's always dressed the very same: a quilted long coat, thick gray gloves, and an ample scarf tied over her head. When she gets to the cashier, whether it's Kroger or Walgreen, they ring up her items, and then she begins to ask questions. After this, she commences to pay, bending down to retrieve her purse from a brown carry-all with a push handle. Once she has found it, she then places the purse on the counter and fishes around for her wallet — wallet inside purse inside carry-all, none of which has been touched until the items have been rung up.

Then there's a long process of searching through the bills and coins to find exactly the right change, which is doled out carefully, item by item, as the cashier looks at the next person in line (we're behind that person) and gives a chagrined look. Finally, payment has been made, and she wants to ask more questions, bless her heart, until the cashier simply motions the next person forward.

She then rolls her cart and purchases and carry-all over to the front of the store and, item by item, with great care, places each purchase inside the carry-all, followed by her purse. After this, the gloves go back on, and we're now having our purchases rung up. The cashier says to her, "Have a nice day," and Steve replies, "Thank you," thinking the cashier is speaking to him.


"Ooooh, where's my money?" said the woman ahead of us in the grocery store line, when it came time to pay. Then: "Ooooh, Lord Jesus, where's my money?"

It appeared to come as a complete surprise to her that this is not one of the days when the store gives its groceries away, and customers would be expected to pay.

We had already watched her fish item after item out of her cart and hand each one slowly to the cashier, so that she could watch each item ring up individually, and, in one case, claim she had been double charged. She had also blocked the conveyor belt with a bag of mandarin oranges, so that we could not put our groceries on the belt — even after she saw us trying to put some of them on the tiny metal strip at the end of the belt.

As she shouted, "Lord Jesus, where's my money?," the nice cash register man suggested it might be in her coat pocket, so she ceased rummaging in her purse, which she had not opened until every last item was rung up and she announced she was paying with cash — the missing cash she decided only then to locate. At this point, she pulled out quite a wad of bills from a coat pocket, but declared that no, these were small bills, and a man had given her big bills just that morning, which were — "Lord Jesus!"— missing.

After most every item in her purse had been taken out, she found the other stash of bills, which were no larger than the ones in her coat pocket she had disdained, and she paid — bill by bill, slowly unfolded and handed over to the cashier.

Then: "Who's going take me out?" Meaning: "Who's going to put my bags of groceries back into the cart, wheel it out to my car, and put the bags into my car?"— a service this store does not happen to offer. (But it does for her, apparently.)

She leaves and we finally start having our groceries rung up, and the nice cash register man says, "Enjoy the show?" Whereupon we all laugh uproariously, because what else can anyone do? He pointed out to us that she had a bag of bananas in her cart that no one may touch but herself, after they've been rung up and she has then put them back into her cart while the other items are bagged, something Steve knew, since he and she have banana conversations every week in the produce department, in which he had learned, as he says, that she has something of an obsession with bananas.


WHAT SHE SAID: "Did they fix your teeth up?" This was when the head of the dental clinic, Dr. C., who is such a nice person, walked by as I ended my dental appointment last December, the last time I visited the clinic until today.

WHAT I SAID IN REPLY: "No, it's still in the driveway."

WHAT I HEARD: "Did you put your Christmas tree up?"

Dr. C. looked totally bamfoozled at my cross-purpose reply to her perfectly sane question.


We make a quick jaunt into Kroger before Steve's lunch hour is done. We pick up our items and get to the cash register, where a young lady is standing to ring up customers' stuff. No one else is in sight.

As we walk up to her cash register, she stands not looking at us while picking her teeth — with a long (about a foot long) black straw like a plastic broomstraw. She does not put it down when we reach the register. She does not say, "Please wait until I have dislodged the items in my teeth and I'll then assist you."

She just keeps a-picking, staring into space, and ignoring us. She then puts the straw down — next to the conveyor belt on which food items pass, are scanned, and then bagged! — and commences to ring up our purchases.

Once they've been rung up and we've punched the credit card thingamajig, she picks up the long black plastic straw, cleans it with her fingernails! — cleans it while holding it over the conveyor belt along which food items pass!! — and commences to pick her teeth again.


Because sometimes we need to laugh.

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