An Old Man and a Stack of Pennies

I am not particularly a fan of the grocery shopping experience.  Grocery stores seem to be a concentrated point of people at one stage or another of hangry.  Hungry, angry masses all trying to check their eggs before heading to an understaffed checkout counter.  Not an ideal way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

They are amazing places though.  The tech involved in keeping food fresh despite being flown thousands of miles to get anywhere is mind blowing.  Shopper flow controls, layout design, market research; seriously these are little science hubs when you ignore the smooth jazz over the speaker system.

I rarely stop to think about that though.  I mostly spend grocery shopping experiences trying to keep the toddler from eating everything or knocking down displays.  Then there’s avoiding steering the kid friendly cart into other people, because why would tires ever take something in an appropriate directions?  Of course the budget minding of the shopping list factors in and we can’t forget to avoid to check expiration dates.

It is an oddly stressful situation despite it being one of the most convenient of modern conveniences.

Today’s grocery run started like any other; navigating the produce section while the toddler grabbed tomatoes and impatient shoppers darted in front of the cart.

Working our way by the bakery an old man called for my attention by calling me sir.  I was looking particularly ‘dad’, paint splattered cargo shorts and a shirt still covered in saw dust from a day of play set building, but it was still weird to be called sir.  He shuffled toward me and the cart.  He was looking particularly great-granddad; green baseball cap, windbreaker for a casino, khaki pants.  

A long time ago I wrote of another stranger approaching my family at a grocery store, that encounter was far from welcome and I feared this old man was going to hand us a religious pamphlet or tell us about a time share opportunity.  I was apprehensive about stopping to meet the guy, not because of anything he had done, but because experience has beaten me into a distrusting hermit person apparently.

We stopped though.  “Hi,” my wife and I said at the same time.

He said hello and then started conversing with the toddler sitting in the little seat at the pusing section of the cart.  The old man complimented his Batman t-shirt and then looked into the plastic car cabin at the head of the cart to say hello the oldest.  It was cute old-guy stuff.

All the while he’s fumbling around in his coat pocket.  I’m thinking “don’t even try to give my kids candy, dude” and really not enjoying the moment.  We were in a rush, grocery stores suck.  That was my mind set.

He leaves the oldest and turns back to us parents.  His hand has left the coat and I see a palm full of pennies.

“Do they like to ride the horse?” the old man asks as he starts to lift his hand to show us the pennies.

At the front of the store there is a “penny a ride” mechanical horse that used to absolutely terrify our firstborn.  The old man flagged us down to buy our boys a few horse rides.

It was the nicest gesture imaginable.  It was pure in its innocence, it was happy in nature, it happened for no other reason than an old man saw children and he wanted kids to be kids.

I went into the situation annoyed, perplexed, maybe even a little afraid because, frankly, interactions with new people in public places have not typically gone so well.  I’m pretty jaded, but this guy is now pretty much exactly who I want to be when I’m 80 (sans the casino windbreaker in 70 degree heat).

I hated to say, “thanks, but no” to the guy.  It felt a bit like taking something away from him, but making my sons ride that mechanical horse toy would be a sick torture in their minds.

We all smiled and went on about our grocery shopping experience.  The old man waved good bye to our boys and he returned to his cart, where a daughter or granddaughter of his awaited.  She smiled, the old guy smiled; it was a good moment.

I don’t know when we’ll have another exceptional grocery store experience, but at least now we know there’s an old guy with a stack of pennies out there just trying to make kids smile.  That’s good to know.


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