Today, I read this story about how a belligerent customer (who was not a cop, as previously reported here) punched a 70-year-old Wal-Mart greeter in the face when the employee asked her to see her receipt on her way out of the store.
It reminded me of one harried day I was in Wal-Mart while my husband was in Iraq. I’ll go ahead and admit that it wasn’t one of my best moments. I’d stopped by the store to get some organizational bins so I could make my house more orderly, lost track of time while shopping, and realized I was already late to pick up the kids.
Hurriedly, I scooted past the elderly greeter, who stopped me.
“Ma’am,” she said. “I need to see your receipt.”
I later learned that if one of your items was not in a bag, they’re instructed to stop you to check. Since I had a gigantic bin, she stopped me. She was just doing her job.
Of course, I didn’t see it that way. I saw it as further proof that I’d lost control of my life. I’d just purchased the bin 20 seconds ago, but I’m not the type of person who sticks her receipt in a certain compartment in my purse in case I need to return it later. I never return it later. To return a defective item would require more organization than I have the power to muster. So when a cashier hands me a receipt, I crinkle it up, stick it in a pocket, or use it to get rid of my stale Doublemint.
“Do you really think I stole this?” I asked, rudely. I must start brushing my hair and matching my clothes, I thought. I envisioned the kids sitting in after-school care wondering why I wasn’t showing up. All of the indignities and difficulties of the deployment seemed to rear their head right there in the entrance of Wal-Mart. “I just bought it at that register. You saw me!”
The older lady looked at me. She’d probably seen a lot of inconsiderate, selfish people like me over the course of the day. Then, she did something that completely shocked me.
“I love you, honey,” she said. “Everything’s going to be all right.”
Perhaps she could see that I was about to lose it right there. Maybe she could tell there was more going on with me than simply not knowing where I stuck that receipt. But right there in the door of Wal-Mart in Columbia, Tenn., the greeter embraced me. I literally cried right there in her arms. It was one of those moments during the year that defined the deployment for me, a stranger showing kindness in spite of my own inadequacies.
I boo-hooed for probably a minute or two right there in her arms, and she didn’t say a word. I never explained that my husband was in Iraq, that I feared for his safety, or that I felt as if I wasn’t doing a good job of mothering my two kids while he was away.
And when I was done, I wiped my eyes and found my receipt. It was wadded up in my pocket.
She grabbed it, looked over it, glanced at my cart, and sent me on my way. Just an average day in the life of a Wal-Mart greeter, I suppose. But it still sticks with me, more than four years later.