The Table Turns

UnknownI am four years old. My mother has taken me grocery shopping, one of my favorite outings. As we roam the aisles, I traipse behind her as she checks prices and places items in the cart. I ask for cookies and treats, but she says no. I am distracted and don’t notice her rounding the corner. When I look up, she’s gone. My heart stops, or at least that’s what it feels like. I stand still, paralyzed, and in a tiny voice I say, “Mommy?”
I listen, hoping she will call my name, but I hear nothing. Shoppers wander by, unaware of my rising panic. I blink back tears and walk around to the next aisle, holding my breath. It’s crowded, and I search for her green sweater. Or was she wearing a blue one? I can’t remember. But it doesn’t matter; I see neither. A tear drops onto my cheek, and a sob catches in my throat.

“There you are.”

I turn and see my mother standing beside her cart. Relief overwhelms me. I run to her, wrap my skinny arms around her body, and bury my face in her stomach.

“I couldn’t find you,” I say over and over, wiping my tears and snotty nose on her shirt.

“I’m right here.” She pats my back and soothes me and makes me feel safe.

******

Fifty years go by. My mother no longer drives. I am visiting for the afternoon and offer to take her grocery shopping. She has trouble walking these days, so I let her out of the car in front of the store. We agree to meet in the produce section.

I park quickly and go inside. She is not amongst the fruits and vegetables. I linger beside a bin of red apples. I wait. Where on earth could my mother be? She did go into the store, didn’t she? I try to remember if I actually saw her enter, or did I drive off before she went in. Silently, I berate myself for not watching more closely.

I jog through the aisles, worried she might have tripped or dropped a jar of pickles. I try to remember what was on her list; I should search those aisles first. I walk by an employee giving away samples of sausages. She sees my distress and offers assistance.

“I can’t find my mother,” I say. I laugh at the absurdity of it. She laughs, too. I move along, and, after circling the entire market, return to produce. Still not there. I wonder if she has her cell phone in her purse. I could call her. Or I could have her paged. That would be mortifying for both of us.

I begin another loop around the store. When I get to the deli department, I spot the back of her head. She is sitting in one of those electric carts, tapping on the glass, and pointing to a turkey breast. I hear her order. “Half a pound. Not too thin; not too thick.”

“Mom,” I say.

She looks over her shoulder at me with a slight frown. “What took you so long?”

“We were supposed to meet in produce.” I am relieved to have found her but annoyed that she made me worry.

“I stopped here first. It was on the way.”

“Well, you should have stuck with the plan. I couldn’t find you.”

“For goodness sakes, I’m right here.” Her tone isn’t comforting like it was when I was little. But that’s okay. I’m glad she’s still feisty.

“Just don’t disappear again,” I tell her.

She ignores me and takes off in her electric cart, heading toward produce. I follow behind her shaking my head.

At least I didn’t cry this time.

(Please comment below and/or share with your friends – thanks! jb)

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