Friday, November 19, 2010

Last Wednesday at Trader Joes

I love Trader Joe's. You can't do all your shopping there but there are things there that you can get that can't be found other places. Recently, I have discovered this pizza dough they sell for 99 cents. If you like thin crust, you can make four home made pizzas out of it, if you like a thicker crust, you can get at least two. I've made pizza dough from scratch, it's time consuming. Still. There is nothing quite like a fresh from the oven pizza.
I find I can get fresh and healthy ingredients from there, and I was happy with my latest discovery. This last trip was supposed to be in and out in fifteen minutes. I knew exactly what I wanted.
There I was grabbing my pizza dough and I heard this woman grumbling about low sodium something and what a pain it was to stick to that diet.
I chuckled a little and said something along the lines of "Tell me about it."
These are the things strangers say to one another in the grocery store. I have heard of women picking up men in the grocery store but I have never had more than a 45 second conversation with a stranger in the store on average.
I don't expect long conversations to happen. I've run into friends from time to time but strangers seem limited to the very simple exchanges.
We comment on the price of eggs going up. We sometimes ask one another what aisle the peanut butter is in. But I don't hear a lot of life stories in the grocery store- but on Wednesday I met Bianca.
Bianca informed me she was 71 and was born and raised in Sicily, came to this country in her mid twenties with her very controlling husband, who refused to let her further her education when she got here. What began with a generic discussion of the best vegetables to steam when you're trying to stick to a low sodium diet, morphed into her extreme views on racial profiling, full body scans and how her family had hidden in a barn during the Holocaust, barely escaping the tyranny of the Nazis.
I think I said about ten words during this conversation.
Bianca was alternately racist and outraged at racism. If you asked her, every person who even looked like a Muslim should be pulled out of line and strip searched. She had disdain for those southern peasants in Italy, and sympathy for political refugees. She refused to be politically correct or to apologize for her world view. She was a full blown flawed and incredible character. She had come to this country a shy and repressed young woman, afraid to assert herself and had emerged a woman living out loud. I don't want to misrepresent her, I think she had as much sympathy for those wronged by prejudice as those who she had prejudice against. I stood there in the grocery store for an hour listening to the greatest hits of her life story.
Life stories are precious. We are running out of people alive to tell Holocaust stories, to stand and listen to hers was a privilege. She was very young when this was going on, a child during the war, but both her memories and stories of her mother as a young Jewish woman in hiding were horrific and fascinating.
I found this woman inspirational in her strength. She stood there unafraid to express herself openly and truthfully to a complete stranger. She cataloged her abusive first marriage and grieved for the love of her life who had died only a year ago. The years had been kind to her, I would never have guessed her age, she looked much younger than she was. She was trim and fit and honestly the picture of health. She was wearing an orange track suit and she looked like she could run a marathon.
She had two grown children who she lamented had not given her any grandchildren but she said she was blessed with nieces and nephews and a large and wonderful family. You could tell the people in her life were loved completely. I wondered briefly if she was lonely, talking to a stranger in the grocery store and but by the time I was done talking to her, I realized this woman had a very full life with friends and activities. She described her walking schedule, men she had met at various events, I got the feeling she was starting to date again. It made me smile.
She told me a story of a refugee ship that was full of the elderly and children, 400 people sailing to America. They got to Miami and were refused entrance for some reason, so they went to Cuba, where they were also refused entrance. They tried to go back and forth to several places but everywhere refused to let them in. In the end, they had to go back to Hamburg, Germany. 8 people were left alive on that boat in the end. This was why she hated Roosevelt. Funny, she didn't mention hating the Cuban government in this story.
In all, I wish I could remember all of what she told me. I think the most important thing I did was let this woman talk, because when I stepped out of the way, she was able to reveal her full self and it was one of the more fascinating hours I have spent. Sometimes you have to just listen and open your mind. I could have argued with her about some of her more outrageous prejudices but instead I made the decision to let it be. She was who she was and I'm glad I got a moment to see who she was.
Here is to you, Bianca, thanks for allowing me to hear you.

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