I’m writing a day late (and possibly a dollar short?) with the Five Minute Friday gang. Free therapy, indeed. Thanks Lisa-Jo for being the mastermind behind this wonderful gift each week. If you have a blog or love to write, you might think about joining us. The rules are here.
I can’t shop at Fitch’s IGA without crying. At least not this morning.
In this small Kentucky town, Fitch’s is the independent grocery store. It’s small, old-fashioned and the freezers are empty this morning as they get repaired. Mr. Leonard Fitch moves ahead of me slowly, leaning on the same kind of walker my grandmother used after her stroke. And maybe it’s that memory or the fact that Mr. Fitch looks so much like my Pop-pop but something makes me tear up before I’m even at the milk.
A roll of biscuits exploded in the refrigerator case and I pick them up. One is hard around the edges; another has a dead fly on it. I carry them towards Mr. Fitch and explain what must have happened, asking where I should bring them.
“You could take them home if you wanted,” he offers. His face has a few white whiskers that escaped his razor, his eyes are gentle and generous. Small-town lore has it that Mr. Fitch feeds local families when they can’t afford to pay. I don’t mention the fly but I opt to leave them with the cashier.
This small grocery store seems like it is teetering on its last leg. It’s more expensive than Kroger. It’s not as expansive or shiny or organic as grocery stores should be these days. My thin grocery budget can’t offer me an extra dollar to pay for this or that, so I don’t. But I just love Mr. Fitch.
I don’t bemoan the loss of a “way of life.” Maybe it’s my training in anthropology or my years living cross-culturally but I actually think there are both good and bad things about a local store and a Kroger (no throwing stones, please). But this morning, as I remember my Pop-pop’s hardware store and the free popcorn and the expertise with which he picked out nuts and bolts and screws and nails, I look at Mr. Fitch and I cry. Because it isn’t a way of life that will die when this store does but a part of his life. A large part.
A friend cites a study I’ve never read about how small towns decline markedly when the local grocery store closes. It may be true. But what catches me in the throat on my way to the hot donuts in the back corner, passing older gentlemen eating their Saturday morning treat in overalls, is that a person declines. That we all decline.
I can see it so clearly: the last birthday card my Pop-pop signed for me. It wasn’t how shaky his writing had become that hurt. It was my mom’s steady pencil lines that he had had to trace. Love, Pop-pop. Even now my breathe is hard to catch, the grief is that deep. Not just because he was my Pop-pop but because it had to happen at all. The strong arms that could throw me into the water and help me jump off the cherry tree and twirl me around needed to trace pencil lines.
A friend wrote recently of her deep despair and clinical depression. During those days, she wrote, she needed to hold someone’s hand. I think of my grandparents’ skin as they aged, how it grew papery and dry and how they loved to hold my hand. Did they, like my friend, need a hand to ground them on this earth as they lived out the days between the losses of those they loved, one by one, and the day they knew was coming to them?
So with tears I remember on the way to the donuts that I live in between the Yes and the Amen. All of God’s promises are Yes and Amen in Jesus Christ. Yet I live in the and. The already-not-yet. This world of beauty and promise and hope and coursing joy that jolts my head up straight. And this world where vitality drains and lives dwindle to an end or snap sharp and are gone. This world that haunts me with a song of all that should be and whispers promises of all that will be but leaves me to live in all that is. Dead flies in the biscuits and papery skin grasping my hand and men who need to lean, on walkers and on daughters, to do what’s ahead of them. Irises that stand, regal head stretching skyward until the blossom bends them low, unable to stand under the weight of their own glory. Today, I see us in those flowers and weep.