In the quaint, small village in which I have lived, worked, and gone to school, there lives a small lady with a vague appearance and flutters of gray hair. Her name is Rene (Ree-nee). Occasionally, she sets up a small card table in the local IGA and neatly displays tapes and cheaply bound "books" of her life. When you walk in on a random Saturday and turn right, towards the bread shelves, there she sits, a spider waiting for passersby who feel a pinch of guilt for not making eye contact. Rene is 86 and attempts to hawk her piano tapes with less success than the Girls Scouts unload their wares. It just so happens that country crooner John Michael Montgomery used to work in the meat department at Fitch's IGA, so a faded, signed poster of him hangs behind the ground round. One spring I exited the sandwich shop to see the bank's marquee commandeered by the unassuming lady: "Rene Frick will be playing her tapes at IGA" it announced. I have come close to purchasing a Rene tape out of sheer sympathy for the birdlike figure perched behind the table, but my student income nagged my common sense. I'm not sure she knows about cd's yet. She most certainly cannot be found on iTunes.
Yesterday, Rene walked into the new tanning salon where my brother sells tanning packages and racks up record Solitaire scores. Her purpose was to apologize for parking in front of the tanning salon. It should be noted that the tanning salon is on one end of the only gas station in town. There are gas pumps, convenience store entry, newspaper dispensers, ice cooler, pay phone, and then the Sunsations tanning salon. Rene had done a bit of grocery shopping in the gas station but was forced to park in a space bordering the salon. Ethan then recounted that somehow the conversation morphed into discussion of the pros and cons of the shorthand system, typewriters, and Scrabble. She also examined the tanning lotions and found one called "sex kitten." "Oooh, that's the one I need!" she exclaimed. "Do you have any wrinkle remover to make me look beautiful?" Rene is a good, churchgoing lady. But she's still very much a woman.
"Sounds like she was lonely," I told Ethan when he stopped by to pick up his cooking spray from my house. I was on my hands and knees, scrubbing the kitchen floor. Sometimes it needs that. Sometimes I need that. "You should offer to play Scrabble with her. She could bring it in when you're working."
When he first told me the story of the bespectacled lady entering the tanning salon, he didn't know her name. But the further he described her, a vague image began to form in my brain. "Wait, wait, wait - it wasn't Rene Frick, was it?" "Well, she drove a car with 'Rene F' on the license plate, so I guess it was," he pondered. "Ethan, she's the lady who sells her tapes at IGA! Gold Buick, or something like that, right?"
I considered my grocery store policy and habit. Not my IGA policy, but my Kroger and Wal-Mart policy. IGA is small, and after living in town for five years, I know where things are. But when I'm in Kroger's or Wal-Mart, if I don't know where something is, I don't ask employees. I ask old ladies. They've been shopping much longer than I have, usually have good inklings about where things are likely to be located, and enjoy a young person stopping to ask them questions. It happened last week with beef buillion cubes. And apparently I emit approachability, because I also have old ladies ask me to reach things for them in grocery and cosmetic aisles. I think it's because I smile and make eye contact, which a lot of people don't do with old women. Sometimes when I see women considering different products that I've used, I lean over and tell them which one I like. Actually, one time a thirtysomething lady saw me with a bag of cat litter and asked if it was good, because it was the cheaper brand. "Sorry," I apologized. "I'm allergic to cats, just making luminaria." I enjoy the unspoken bond between harrassed shoppers trying to spend their pennies wisely, attempting to get the best kitty litter or lipstick. One time a lady prevented me from making a catastrophic lipstick choice, and I remain grateful in retrospect. "You think the base will cement on the color," she advised, "but really the color begins to flake off after a few hours. But some of it's still stuck on. I hated it."
Thank you, lady in the lipstick aisle.