The Power of Hello

I go to the grocery store, on average 20-21 days every month.  That’s like going every single day for 3 weeks and then taking a week off.

My shopping frequency combined with my New Year’s Resolution to not use the self check-out has given me ample opportunity to get to know the people at my local store.

One cashier is coming up on her 50th high school reunion.

Another was at work shortly after surgery, telling me, “I can’t afford to take three weeks off. My family needs the money.”

A male cashier thanked me for shopping at Safeway — but I was at Price Chopper. His eyes widened and he put his hand over his mouth. “I can’t believe I said that. I haven’t worked at Safeway for over 10 years.” Plus, for the record, there are no Safeways in our area. He and I laughed about it. “Your secret is safe with me,” I told him — except, I guess, it wasn’t because I just told all of you.

One of the deli guys took up the challenge of slicing my swiss cheese thin. “Is that thin enough?” he asked, holding up an imaginary slice of cheese held between his forefinger and thumb. We both laughed.

Then there was the cashier with the sugar-daddy. (See “In the Parking Lot“)

I now recognize most of the people who work in the meat department, the flower shop, the service desk, and produce, and I try to greet them. It was an introvert hurdle — but I think I’ve gotten over it.

The other day, one of the produce guys greeted me. I had grabbed my bunch of bananas and was headed out when he said, “Are you Sally?”

“Yes,” I replied, wondering how he knew my name.

Then he asked again, this time adding my maiden name.

“Yes,” I said, “How did you…”

Before I could finish, he introduced himself. He had graduated with me from high school.

Boys can undergo a dramatic metamorphosis between high school and life. I doubt I would recognize many of the boys-turned-men with whom I graduated just on sight. He was no exception.

As soon as he said his name, of course, I remembered him. I remembered when his family moved to Cooperstown. They were from a strange place called Lon Guyland. In fact, it was always referred to as “down Lon Guyland.”

Besides my mother’s Boston that snuck into her speech every once in a while, and a local doctor who was decidedly southern, I couldn’t have identified any other American regional accents. Now I could add Long Island to the list.

That day in the grocery store, I was so happy that he said something to me. It was the day I wrote “Bleh” and was feeling just like that.

Discouraged.

A mess.

A failure.

And then someone reintroduced himself to me. As we caught up on each other’s lives, it turned my day around.

The power of a simple hello.

Last night, the local guy behind me in line said, “Remind me why we like Cooperstown in the summer.”

The store was crowded with tourists. The couple ahead of us in line, probably grandparents come to watch their grandson play at the Dreams Park, hadn’t noticed the Express Lane sign for the register — 15 items or less.  But all the registers were busy like that.

Cooperstown in the summer: Busy. Crowded. Baseball teams. Tour buses. No parking spots. Few familiar faces.

Across the store, I could see Mark putting out tomatoes in the produce section. I thought about how nice it is to live among people who have known my family for nearly half a century, and especially how nice it is to be recognized and greeted.

“Because it’s lovely,” I replied.

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16 thoughts on “The Power of Hello

  1. You capture the essence of being part of somewhere and the importance of that seemingly unimportant contact in our human lives beautifully in this piece. I’m glad you forced your introvert self and that you are now reeling the reward of being a person rather than a faceless wonder 🙂

    • Don’t you think that there are so many people that are right there in front of us but most people don’t even see them? I remember once eating at a restaurant with a friend. The waitress looked so careworn that I wanted to invited to sit for a minute, but my friend placed her order so perfunctorily that I knew she hadn’t even noticed — and I found myself wondering how often I fail to notice.

      • Exactly. And I try to remain conscious but of course, being human and preoccupied I must miss it too often – the sad thing being that that is the one time in that person’s experience of us and we flunked it.

  2. I’ve had to re-find my hometown, or at least some of the people from my high school days, on Facebook. I’m glad it exists for people like me who drifted away and never moved back. Now I work in the bakery of my local supermarket and I think I recognize more friendly faces now than ever. But I know I missed something important in the hometown experience. Sometimes you make choices in life and can’t see the big picture.

    • The funny thing is I’ve kept in touch with very few people from my high school even though I do live where I grew up. My closest friends are folks from other areas. But my home — well, there’s just something about this place. I really love where I live. I hope you’ve found a home wherever you are.

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