“Mom, can you give me a ride to work please?” My daughter asked.
To be honest, I wasn’t in the mood. Had it not been raining, I would have told her a walk would be good for her. I was in the middle of a project and the interruption wasn’t welcome. None-the-less, I laid aside my work. It was the only reasonable thing to do.
After dropping her off, I remembered several errands I needed to run. I would do those before heading home, and save myself another trip out. With that, I drove to the Home Hardware Store.
Waiting at the stop sign in our small town of Elmira Ontario, I heard the clip-clop of horses hooves, a common sound in Mennonite country. I watched the horse and buggy, coming my way, with other traffic following patiently behind. Or, not so patiently.
A monster of a truck, jacked up on those over-sized wheels, making an even bolder statement in an electric blue colour, followed tight on its heels. Clearly annoyed. The line-up of vehicles behind it looked non-menacing, compared to that one, lone, angry-looking machine.
As the covered buggy rounded the corner, the Monster revved. Hard. The horse startled slightly. The buggy lurched forward. The Monster driver was clearly irate at having had to hold back his own horse power, thanks to a little Mennonite buggy, with live horse power.
A young man, probably in his mid-twenties, stuck his head out of the buggy, straw hat pulled over his head, eyes gazing at the Monster. A world just beyond his reach. You could see it in his eyes. The longing to experience that kind of power. He stretched out further, his eyes following the Monster, until it slipped out of sight. The Monster’s roar, echoing long after it was out of sight, almost seemed to taunt the young man.
Slowly the young man pulled his head back in, eyes filled with something akin to sadness. The world beyond his reach.
I can’t say for certain that I interpreted the scene accurately, but it is what saw, in my mind’s eye. Maybe, in reality, the young man thought the Monster owner to be a fool, and his look was one of sadness for the ‘lost soul’ inside. I will never know.
I drove on, the scene replaying in my mind, and wondered at this colliding of cultures. I can almost hear the Monster driver spewing his frustrations—I’ve been with people, on occasion, who do that. No doubt he muttered things like ,”take your horse back out to the farm, where it belongs!” or maybe, “C’mon!! This is the 20th century!!”
Regardless, the buggy with its bridled horse power, juxtaposed with the Monster and its unbridled horse power, was an image I wished to have captured permanently. It forced me to contemplate the stark contrast between these worlds, and the ways they collide, from time to time.
I arrived at the grocery store, to grab a few items, declining a woman’s offer to have her cart—and the 25 cents she had invested in it. A small basket would do.
Scurrying about the store, picking up a few necessary items for our vegetable skewers for dinner, I was keenly aware of other shoppers. It isn’t like me, really, to be so aware of detail. While I have a fairly graphic memory, detail like that isn’t my strength. Yet, even now, more than 24 hours later, I could describe many of the shoppers.
A young father walked purposefully through the store, his little girl prancing about delightfully, as he shopped. Another woman, with long, straight black hair, walked more slowly, looking stern, or somber. And so on…
Had the buggy and the Monster created the sensitivity? Possibly.
I smiled politely. Greeted a few I recognized, and continued my speed shopping. No time for socializing. Dinner was in an hour and I looked forward to the steak and veggie skewers. The pasta was an afterthought. Could have done without it, but my husband and five children would have been ravenous shortly after dinner. Especially our three boys. The girls would have been fine.
I rushed to the counter, relieved to find I was second in line at one of the check outs, and pleased that I had made it out without getting caught in conversation. That’s rare. Usually someone stops to chat. Tells me their story of pain and tragedy. That’s just how it is with me. I don’t know why.
In fact, years ago my husband asked me, “How do you meet these people? You walk into a public washroom and come out knowing someone’s life story.”
“I don’t know,” I said. It just happens. “I can’t explain it.
Not weeks later, he had attended a doctor appointment with me. As we rode the elevator together, along with one other woman—a perfect stranger to us both—we did the typical elevator behaviour. Brace against the wall. Look at the lights as we move from floor to floor. Gasp a little at the rise and fall of each stop. (Did I mention I am sensitive to that feeling? An elevator could as well be a roller coaster. Though I have gotten better with time.)
We had not yet reached our floor when the woman looked at me, smiled, and said, “hi”.
“Hi,” I said, smiling politely.
We reached our floor, and exited the elevator. The woman followed. We walked to our doctor’s suite. Again she followed. After checking in with the nurse, we seated ourselves. She seated herself just around the corner from us.
By the time we left, I knew her story. She was divorced. Had fought hell and high water to keep her son because her husband slandered her. Her cousin was married to my brother. And she had just moved weeks earlier, to our area, from a town two hours away. I have never seen the woman again.
As we left, I said to my husband, “You asked how it happens. That’s how it happens.”
As I stood there at the checkout yesterday, preparing to pay, relieved to have escaped any such conversations, I turned, and looked to the line now forming behind me. Timing is everything some days. A minute later and I would have been at the back of that line. And that’s when I saw them….
My story is one of overcoming extreme abuse and violence. Childhood made me hypersensitive to hurting people to such an extent that I can see a perfect stranger and often know what they’ve been through. Even what they’re thinking. Some find this creepy. I don’t. I had to know what people were thinking, as a child, in order to survive and stay a step ahead of the game. Now I use that survival skill in coaching and mentoring people. It helps me ask the right questions. It helps me see things that no one else might know about the people around me.
And that is precisely what happened when I looked to the back of the line. A slightly heavy-set woman who appeared to be in her sixties, nearly ran her full cart into another shopper. An awkward apology, as the shopper glared at her. She looked almost frightened, as she squinted behind the inch-thick glasses that made her eyes look quarter of their actual size. She laughed nervously. Quietly. Obviously feeling a bit lost. Out of place. Her stained, crooked teeth—what were left of them—mocked her laugh.
She wore traditional Old Colony Mennonite garb. A black kerchief wrapped around her head, little frills falling off the edges. I know the culture. It’s my background. I know how closed they are. How secluded. How alone. How different they feel when they mingle with ‘worldly folk’. That aloneness was visible.
A younger woman, maybe in her forties, and thin, almost to an extreme, stumbled up to her. But for the weight difference, and the age, I would have sworn I was looking at a ghost of the same woman, from days gone by. Her younger years. No doubt this was her daughter.
The daughter, dressed almost identical to her mother, wore no glasses, but was clearly visually impaired. She squinted, leaning in close, awkwardly placing her face very near the other woman. She spoke. I couldn’t hear the words. Though I wished I could have. (Not that I make a habit of eavesdropping… most of the time.) This was different. I know their mother-tongue, and could have understood their words, had they spoke louder. Probably just as well.
Their body language screamed of victimization. I know the signs. I watched my mother, as a child, and heard her screams. The horrors of domestic violence.
I turned my attention back to the cashier. “That will be $41.26.”
I slid my card in the card reader and entered my code. The cashier asked a question. I nodded, looking intently at the POS machine.
Something in my chest hurt. I felt grief rise up. A sense of identification from childhood that I had never encountered this way before, in public, with strangers.
A tear formed, threatening to spill. I choked it back down. No tears. Not now. I could feel my heart, tightening up. Squeezing more tears out of my chest and up into my eyes. I swallowed hard. Took the receipt. Turned with my small box of groceries and left the store.
In my car the tears started. Falling for these strangers, they trickled down my face. One by one, at first, and then a stream.
Such stark contrast between their world, and the world of the beautiful little girl, skipping through the grocery store beside her daddy.
One short trip in a small town to take my daughter to work. Two worlds juxtaposed. One heart… A thousand tears.
© Trudy Metzger
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