On the Road #2: Schooled at the Corner Market

Background for the On The Road series.
On the road.

My next stop was a grocery market, the name inferring Latino. I gathered my paperwork, locked the car and headed for the door. Outside of the market were three kids, two boys about 9 and 13 years old, and a small girl about 5. They eyed me curiously as I passed, said “Hello”, and entered the store.

The lighting inside was dim but I could see it was a small place, jam packed with groceries and other items for sale. The decorations and signs told me it’s main customer base and ownership was Peruvian. The woman behind the counter smiled as I walked up and I started with my usual greeting and reason for being there. It was immediately obvious she wasn’t understanding what I was saying. I’ve encountered this before in my life but accept that I’m in her store, her neighborhood, and I need to do a better job of explaining myself.

It wasn’t going very well, but she was forgiving and trying as hard as I was. Suddenly, the 3 kids outside came running in and surrounded me at the counter, the younger two on each side of me and the older boy looking over my shoulder. I admit an immediate uncomfortable feeling, but I was as immediately relieved when the oldest boy laughingly said “Hey! Let me help – my Mom’s not too good with English”. This made the younger kids giggle and put me at ease. He translated for both his mother and me, and our business was completed. The 3 ran back outside as quickly as they came in. As I left the store, I thanked the oldest for his help and said “Good Bye!” to all.

The 5 or 10 minutes of time related here stays with me still. It’s hard to explain. Or maybe just hard to admit. I tell myself I’m not a bigot, thinking of myself as an aged hippie. But how much these minutes opened my eyes to how I sometimes fall to stereotyping peoples and places was a needed whack to the back of the head. Isolation from other cultures around you does not help you see the things we all have in common in our lives. Meeting people of other cultures up close and personal in their environment, like in this encounter, can help to dispel that stereotypical thinking.

This was a family, making a living like the rest of us. Mom was running the store, and I would bet the oldest son was taking care of and entertaining his younger sister and brother to help Mom out. And watch out for her too.

This day was in my first week on this job, and I’ve often been in many different ethnic neighborhoods since. This visit helped me be a hopefully more aware and open minded person in these later stops.

The Best Birthday Present Ever?

This year brought one of those major life event birthdays – 65. I wasn’t getting depressed about it, but I was overthinking it. Getting my Medicare and all other medical insurance policies set up was a stressful nightmare leaving me frazzled, which helped generate an all too solemn aura to this pending personal holiday. The background low level chatter in my brain repeated “this is a big one” whenever I had any thought related to the event.

For a few days the week before my birthday, my wife and I were staying with good friends and relatives in New Jersey, and spent one afternoon at a museum in Morristown. It was a fair sized museum, fun for all ages, with exhibits ranging from music making machines to a large toy train layout.

Late in the visit the four of us were in the rock exhibition room and saw 3 or 4 kids run into a seemingly dark room. We could hear the excited oohs and aahs, and decided to take a look. As we got closer we could see the room was actually a large closet, with flat black walls and ceiling, and no light except what leaked in through the door. A girl about 5 or 6 years old met us at the door and hurried us in, and as we entered the black lights came on. The rocks all appeared out of the darkness, lighting up the room in different shades of red, green, yellow, blue, and purple, and the oohs and aahs repeated.

The girl who invited us in then ran out, her companions trailing, and she yelled to her mother across the large room, “Mommy, Mommy, we showed the old people…”. I looked at my brother-in-law, and we both started laughing. I could hear her mother quietly admonish her with a “Don’t say THAT!” and I laughed a lot more and didn’t stop for quite a while.

This kept me in chuckles the rest of the day – and the next few days. And I still crack up inside my head whenever I think about it. I can’t yet explain why it sticks with me, nor why it permanently defused the overthinking of the “big 65” as quickly as it did. I told my wife and friends it was the best birthday present I could have hoped for, one I’ll never forget.

Note: The Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey, was a lot of fun. The Murtogh D. Guinness Collection of Mechanical Musical Instruments and Automata is well worth a visit, to see 19th century (and earlier) machines that make music, and also, mechanical dolls and robots. Shows and demonstrations of these exhibits are on the schedule. See the Morris Museum web site for more details.