Encounter by Lynn Olson

Lynn Olson: I moved to the Valley from Wisconsin, where I was happily retired. After an old college friend found me online, we bought an 1894 farmhouse and adopted a dog. Home. I am home. I write with the Main St. Writers, and look forward to discovering more of the writing life here.

Encounter

“Where are you from?” she asked. “You have an accent going there… like I think you’re from the Midwest, but… I’m not sure.”

I had just met this woman at Big Y. She was standing the required distance behind me, and she was masked in one of those Darth Vader plastic things. I wore my springiest mask, a sweet item in pink, with perky blue forget-me-nots peeking around my face. I needed to wipe my nose. I sniffled surreptitiously and tried to respond. We’d been talking off and on since 7 am, when she was number 1 and I was number 2 in line.

This was her first time. I mean, this was the first encounter she’d had with the Covid Shopping Experience. She’d been full of nervous questions, and I’d tried to help.

I kept meeting up with her. She didn’t understand the arrows pointing the way down the aisles, and when I saw her coming up on me next to the peanut butter, I made hand motions to turn her around, go the other way!

“OK,” she responded, “I can do that, sure, no problem.” She tried to turn her cart as if it were a Chrysler, inching to the left, and then rotating the thing so she was aligned in the right direction.

“See ya in the next aisle!” she said.

We met up again in the toilet paper section. Half the customers were already there, scanning with rapid eye movements over the empty shelves.

“This is crazy,” she said. “But I can use paper towels.”

“I sure hope this lady’s son is a plumber,” I thought to myself, in the privacy of my own mask.

So it went, up and down the aisles, until we were six feet apart at checkout.

And again she said, “Where are you from?”

“Uh… “

“Ok,” I thought. “Let’s have some fun here…”

“Oh, sure, you betcha,” I said. “OK, then! I AM from the Midwest… I’m from northern Wisconsin… And you? Where are youse from?”

“I’m from Belchertown,” she said.

“Kind of a funny name for a town, eh?” I said.

She started to shuffle through her groceries, looking for something deep under the cake mixes and chicken pot pies. She seemed frantic.

“Do you need something?” I asked.

“Uh… yeah… I seem to have forgotten the peanut butter….”

I dug around my basket under the layer of comfort food – chocolate Kisses, marshmallows - and pulled up my jar of Smuckers.

“Here ya go!” I said, holding it like a trophy. “You can have dis, fer sure.”

She looked around, then reached out her gloved hand for the peanut butter.

“Thank you,” she said.

“No-o--o problem,” I answered, maybe overdoing the Midwest nasal just a tiny bit.

We squared our shoulders to take turns at the check-out, staying behind the Plexiglas, not breathing.

“Ok… “I said… “See you’s around, den, huh?”

“Ya,” she said. “Oh, and just so ya know, I’m from Sheboygan. Wisconsin. Go Packers, eh?”