I was among them, second in line and getting a little edgy myself at the long exchange between the cashier and the customer at the head of the queue.
At last it was my turn and I promptly plunked down my purchases and snapped down my credit card.
Mid-transaction, a young teen and his sister came in the door and stepped past me.
Those of us in line took note because, unlike our own blessedly healthy and beautiful children and grandchildren, these two were apparently challenged by learning disabilities. They were obviously able to be out on their own. But just barely.
Almost immediately there was a bursting noise and the young man said “Oh no!”
He had dropped a glass jar. Pennies and glass were all over the floor, inches from my ankles.
Now I became the guy at the head of the line who was holding things up. I knelt beside the distraught boy who was trying to pick up the glass shards. I carefully grabbed the biggest ones and tossed them in the cashier’s trash can.
While my back was turned, the boy put his hand on the floor to sweep the smaller pieces into a pile.
The woman behind me in line, who, moments earlier had been ouchy at the slow checkout pace immediately went into loving mother mode: “No, no, honey,” she said. “You’ll cut yourself. Please be careful.”
We corralled the small pieces of glass and, like the boy, turned our attention to the pennies. Like the glass fragments, he was preparing to sweep the pennies with his hand, but I showed him how to pick them up one at a time, carefully. We are talking perhaps 60 cents, total.
He started to put the coins back in the broken jar which now was only slightly less lethal than a switchblade.
Instead, the cashier provided a small paper bag to serve as the young man’s bank.
By then, he and his sister were fully focused on the object of their visit: the candy shelf.
And nobody in line was complaining any more. We now had a bigger issue to deal with than waiting an extra two minutes to check out--our hearts were breaking.
Here were these kids who, it looked like, probably never have what we consider a really easy day. They come into a store with perhaps half enough money to buy a single candy bar for the two of them. And then the boy’s “bank ” — along with its contents that showed not a single silver coin — ends up on the floor in a thousand pieces.
Naturally, at that moment my credit card finished processing and the cashier was dismissing me.
But I was not prepared to be dismissed. I wanted to buy these kids a couple of candy bars.
Now I was flustered. I had cash with me, but it was in my car.
Do I go get it?
Or do I buy candy with a credit card?
And what about all the people behind us waiting impatiently in line?
It turns out I was fretting needlessly.
In the time it took me to have those thoughts, the woman in line behind me had given each of the children a dollar bill.
And nobody in line was in a hurry any more.
What these children had done for us, of course, was to make us aware that we had no problems at all.
It gave us a wonderful moment of human closeness.
And I’ll bet I’m not the only one who has thought about it many times since.
Jim Busek is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]