We lived in a little house when I was about seven years old. This was before the time when children got whatever they wanted. My mother was a Juvenile Probation Officer, so I rarely got away with anything.
Not only that, I had to go with my mother whenever she went shopping. If I didn’t stick close to her, I’d lose track of her and find myself surrounded by strangers. To a little kid in a large grocery store, that was like being abandoned in the middle of Los Angeles. She wouldn’t come find me, either. The job of searching for her down all those aisles crawling with scary grownups was on me. On one occasion, I reached up to hold my mother’s hand only to discover it wasn’t hers.
But that’s not what this story is about.
I finally discovered a trick. I would ask my mother, “If I stay in the toy aisle, would you come back for me when you’re done shopping?”
For some reason she would always agree to that proposal. Then I could have all the fun I wanted and not have to keep track of her, even though I was only to look at the toys and not buy them.
That’s not what this story is about, either.
On one occasion, I asked my mother if I could have a candy bar. Just one. To my surprise she said, "Yes." She then waited for me to pick one from the long row of candies. Because this was such a rare event, I put a lot of thought into it. She eventually became concerned and said, “Now, Jeffrey, you need to decide.”
I suggested that she do the shopping and then come back and get me. She agreed and left me to work on my project. I paced back and forth along the aisle, which seemed to be the length of a city block. This went on for at least an hour.
I had narrowed my choices to about three by the time she returned for me. Then I had to make my final decision. I don’t remember what it was, except that it was chocolaty.
In those days, the cashiers entered prices for each item by hand into their cash registers. They did this at an impressive speed and without looking at their machines. Their right hands went clickity-click while their left hands moved the items down the moving belt. Another employee put the products into bags.
Mother always told me to put identical items together so the clerk had only to enter the price once and then press a multiplication key. Mother was strict about this and so was everyone else. There was a respect for cashiers back then.
But there was only one candy bar. I placed it on the moving belt and the nice man moved it along.
Once outside, I asked my mother for the treat. We found it and I stuck it in my shirt pocket. I didn't want it right away because I wanted to relish the moment. I hopped along in proximity to Mother between parked and moving cars.
When I got into the back seat I reached for my shirt pocket, but the candy bar wasn’t there. I looked down and all around me. Mother hadn’t yet started the car. “Mother!” I exclaimed. “It's gone.”
She helped me look through the back seat. We went through all the grocery bags. It was nowhere. Mother allowed me to retrace my steps to the store while she waited in the car.
After searching the pavement on the way back between cars and across lanes, I finally saw it out in the open on the blacktop. But before I could get to it, a passing car ran over it.
There I stood watching the melting chocolate and torn wrapping. Mother caught up with me. “Oh, honey, I’m sorry,” she said.
I considered rescuing it, but even in my anguished, young state, I knew it was hopeless.
And no, Mother did not let me get another candy bar.
But, if I remember correctly, she let me get an Icee from the vendor outside the store. That was enough to keep me going for another day.