I had previously posted in Should I tell? about the decision whether or not to reveal my inspirations behind the words I write. For the most part, I choose to leave the interpretation up to the reader, but in thinking of works I would like to share, there are some where I like to tell the story of their creation. At times it is fun to hear how a writer comes up with their words; that in itself is a story to be shared, enjoyed and gives other writers food for thought. It has been said that we write about that which we know or love, or have lived or experienced. I can see that in my own writing, where many of my short stories have a music theme, which is a great love of mine. Writing was also a means of therapy for me, as I went through many changes in my personal life – divorce, retirement, and basically just waking up to life and who I really am. And there are some poems that are so very personal to me that I just cannot share them beyond my reading of them only. Now with all that being said, I want to share a short story I wrote. It is based on an actual encounter that my step mom had in Wal-Mart, except I gave the ending a bit of a twist. Seeing as how we are into the holiday season I thought it would be fun to post, as it takes place during that season. Happy reading!
Help Needed in Housewares
Mary stood in the housewares aisle in Wal-Mart, trying to decide which type of serving spoon she wanted to buy to replace the one she had used for decades. The plastic handle on the metal spoon she had used for scooping up all kinds of foods had finally cracked beyond repair. She found it a bit silly to place so much importance on an item like this, but at the risk of sounding like an old person, they just didn’t make things like they used to. And so many choices! Almost too many choices it seemed. Maybe that was the young man’s dilemma also, that there were too many choices. Mary noticed the lost look on his face as he glanced from one set of silverware to another.
“Can I help you out at all?” Mary asked.
The young man, who appeared to be in his early 30’s, looked at her with relief. He must have dressed in a hurry, Mary thought. He had on a pair of sweatpants and a sweatshirt with dried paint on it, obviously paint that didn’t make it on the wall. On his head was a baseball cap with tufts of dark hair sticking out from under it in every direction.
“Yes, I could use some advice. I’m having some friends over for a belated Thanksgiving dinner, and to celebrate my new home too I guess. I moved here a month ago – job transfer – and I’m kinda starting over from scratch as far as my kitchen goes.”
“What do you need to buy?” Mary asked him.
“What don’t I need to buy is a better question. But right now I really need some silverware, dishes, basic utensils, and pots and pans would be useful too. I guess whatever a person needs to cook and serve a decent Thanksgiving dinner,” the young man replied.
Mary found out his name was Tim. He had just moved from Wisconsin to Texas and didn’t bring much with him when he moved.
Tim asked Mary, “Do you have time to help me?”
“I have more time than money!” Mary told him.
“Thank you!” Tim sighed with relief. “Most older people don’t have time for us younger people. Not that you’re that old,” he stammered.
“Well, I don’t feel old, but I do have a granddaughter who is 26,” Mary told him.
“No way!” Tim exclaimed. “You certainly don’t look or act old enough to even have grandchildren,” Tim told her. Mary’s looks certainly didn’t match her age – with her full head of blonde hair only slightly mixed with gray and her youthful attitude, many people assumed she was years younger than she actually was.
Mary smiled, “Well, I do have grandchildren – four to be exact. But enough about me – let’s get you what you need for your dinner!”
The first thing Mary did was to take the separate spoons, forks and knives out of Tim’s shopping cart and put them back on the shelf. Tim watched her with a puzzled look.
“It will be a lot cheaper if you buy a set of silverware instead of each individual piece,” Mary told Tim.
Tim looked at what he had wanted to buy and what Mary was suggesting he should buy and did the math.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right about that. I’m not really much of a shopper – I just grabbed the first thing I saw,” said Tim.
“That’s alright,” said Mary. “I’ll help you out and make sure you get the best deals and don’t spend more than you need to. I’ve been doing this shopping thing for a lot of years – you have to pay really close attention. Maybe I can teach you a thing or two.”
“This is really so nice of you to help me. I’ve never put on a meal for anyone besides myself and I’m afraid I didn’t really know what I had gotten myself into. But I feel much better knowing that I have an experienced dinner planner helping me,” Tim gratefully told Mary.
After picking out a nice but inexpensive set of silverware for eight, Mary helped Tim find a set of dishes that included serving dishes also, a few basic cooking utensils and a set of pots and pans that would work just fine but not drain his bank account.
“There, that should be all that you need for your table and some cookware so you can cook your food. And speaking of food, I don’t see any in your cart. Maybe we should head over to the grocery section next and see what we can find there,” said Mary.
Mary turned in the direction of the grocery department, with a grateful Tim close behind, pushing the cart that was waiting to be filled with whatever it was that one made for a belated Thanksgiving/housewarming dinner.
On the way to the grocery department, Mary asked Tim, “Didn’t you already celebrate Thanksgiving with your family a couple weeks ago, when it actually was Thanksgiving?”
“Actually, my folks have been gone for a few years now and I don’t have any brothers or sisters. I grew up here, in Texas, but I ended up working in Wisconsin until now. I was happy when my transfer came through – I still have friends here so I came up with the idea of having Thanksgiving with them – it’s been so long since I’ve celebrated the holidays with family or old friends.”
“No one should be alone on the holidays. I’m so glad that you have friends here to celebrate with. I know how I treasure the holidays with my family,” Mary said. They had made it to the meat department by now.
“What size turkey do you think you’ll need?” Mary asked.
“I wouldn’t have any idea how to pick out a turkey and I kinda had my heart set on ham, even though it isn’t what people usually eat on Thanksgiving,” Tim replied.
“Then ham it is! You can have whatever you want – it’s your party. Besides, I’ve served pizza for Christmas and boy were my grandkids happy that year! So let’s get a big enough ham that you can have some leftovers too.” Mary helped him pick out a good sized smoked ham, and proceeded to show him the cooking instructions, which didn’t seem too difficult. Ham was much easier than turkey Tim decided –a good choice!
Even though the traditional turkey was not a part of Tim’s Thanksgiving meal, he wanted all the other traditional foods. He was pleasantly surprised to find that stuffing came in a box and only took a few minutes of preparation on the stove. Stuffing a turkey would have proved to be a challenge he wasn’t quite ready to face. Into the cart went a can of corn, some heat and serve dinner rolls, instant mashed potatoes (another wonderful convenience in a box!) and a package of ham gravy that Mary assured him would turn out just perfect.
“What about dessert?” Mary asked.
“Well, I know that pumpkin pie is the favorite for this meal, but I’m really not a big fan,” Tim told her.
“Remember, you can have whatever you want. How about a couple of fruit pies instead?” Mary suggested.
“That sounds good. I like apple and I see they have cherry too so I’ll take one of each.” Tim set the pies in the cart, which was a lot fuller than when he had first come to the grocery department. He was happy to see the mountain of items in his cart although the thought of the total at the checkout made him a bit nervous. But with Mary’s kind help, he had all he needed. Or so he thought.
“There are just a couple more things that you need for your table. Follow me.” Mary started off towards the other part of the store; this time to where they sold candles.
“You’ll want to set a nice table, and candles are such a nice touch – your guests will be so impressed!” Mary helped Tim find some elegant taper candles; one set of white and another set of red, just in case he needed some for Christmas entertaining. She also found a pair of simple yet decorative pewter candleholders to put them in. “These candleholders are good for any occasion – maybe for a candlelight dinner sometime, in case you meet someone special?” Mary winked at him.
Tim blushed, “I hadn’t really thought that far ahead, but thanks for the advice. You’re almost like my mother.”
“Well, one other thing a mother would have you buy is some napkins. And not the paper kind – for a holiday one should have cloth napkins. So let’s head over to that section and see what we can find.” Mary found some napkins that once again she explained could be used at a future date and she also explained to Tim the use of napkin rings. She picked out napkins that were darker colors such as forest green, a deep blue and once again red, just in case for Christmas, and found a set of silver napkin rings to match the pewter candleholders.
“You should be all set now. Let’s head over to the checkout and see what the damage is! Oh, don’t worry – it won’t be as costly as you think. Time spent with friends is priceless, don’t you think?” Mary saw Tim smile at the thought of seeing his friends again.
They got to the check-out area and stood in line. While Tim waited for his turn to unload his cart, he turned to Mary. “I can’t thank you enough for all your help. Most people are in such a hurry these days. Why don’t you give me your phone number and after I get settled in I’ll cook dinner for you, just to show my appreciation?”
“That’s awfully kind of you,” Mary said, “but you don’t have to do that. Besides, I’m so busy when I come down here for the winter that I really don’t have a lot of free time. But I like it that way – better than spending it cooped up in the house during the long Minnesota winters.”
Finally it was Tim’s turn to start unloading his cart. As the person at the register started to scan his items, Tim told her “This nice lady here helped me to find everything I need to cook an overdue Thanksgiving dinner for my friends – I was so lost until she took time to shop with me. Isn’t it nice to hear about people like that? I told her she is just like my mother, didn’t I Mary?”
But when Tim looked behind him, there was no one there. He had just been talking to Mary a minute ago. “Did you see where the older lady who was with me went?” he asked the cashier.
“There was no older lady with you – I wondered to myself who you were talking to when I saw you standing in line,” the cashier replied with a look on her face reserved for slightly odd people she came across.
“But that can’t be! I just spent the last 45 minutes walking through the store with this person – her name is Mary – I didn’t just imagine her!” exclaimed Tim.
Or did he? It’s said that there are times when angels come to earth, in human form, to help us here when we need it. Could Mary have been one of those angels? Tim would always wonder about it; who was the kind lady who helped him that day when he was so bewildered? He always told the story, every Thanksgiving, first sharing it with his wife and her family. And yes, he always used the same candles and napkins that Mary helped him find – they always graced the Thanksgiving table. Then as the years went by, he told his children and grandchildren the story when they were old enough to understand. It came to be a traditional story that they loved to hear. He wanted them to hear the story about the kind lady – the lady he believed was really an angel – so that they would always believe in angels too.