red frontI shop almost exclusively at Red Front Supermarket in Harrisonburg, Virginia – not just because it stocks everything I need and it’s on my way home, but because the staff and customers inevitably restore my faith in humanity.

Last week, I was in Red Front at a particularly busy time. The checkout lines were backed up. I picked one and unloaded my groceries. In front of me was an unkempt, cheerful, chatty woman whose cart was choc-a-block full of everything  not recommended for healthy eating. “I’m getting ready for Christmas,” she explained, offloading packs and packs and packs of candy.

The checker’s name was Carson. He’s a college student I’ve known since he was in high school.

Carson has always been high on my list of faith-in-humanity restorers. Once he finished ringing up my line neighbor’s many, many  items, he gently announced the total: $387 and some cents.

My line neighbor, who was what I think of as a Slow Mover, looked confused for a bit, then slowly got her wallet out of her purse, rummaged around, and pulled out thirty dollars. Carson took the money and waited politely — as did the five or six people in line behind me. I don’t know, but I’m willing to bet that each of us knew exactly what was coming.

“What else you need?” my line neighbor asked.

“Well,” Carson said. And he repeated the total.

“No!” my line neighbor yelled. “No way. No way it can be that much.”

Carson, I suspect, would rather have his hair set on fire than cause anyone pain. But he is also a good employee. “All I can go on is what rings up on my register,” he said gently, without a jot of impatience. “What I suggest is that, after I run through your payment, you check your receipt really carefully.”

“No way,” she said again. But she did pull out a plastic card and hand it to Carson.

He ran it twice. Both times it was declined for insufficient funds. Candy, the manager on duty, came over and tried several different ways to get the system to a accept the card. Neither Carson nor Candy gave the woman anything but kindness and respect. And I heard no muttering from the people in line behind me, as my line neighbor continued to yell sporadically, “No way it can be that much!”

Eventually we reached an impasse. My line neighbor really did have insufficient funds, but she wasn’t going anywhere, having gotten stuck on “no way can it be that much!”

And then, a young woman with several small children in tow was offering her card. “I’ll pay for the groceries,” she said quietly.

My line neighbor looked stunned. As, I’m sure, did I. “Thank-you,” my line neighbor said.

I’m a reporter. I’m nosy. I leaned over and asked my insuffienctly-funded  line neighbor if the young woman was a relative.

“Never saw her before in my life!”

It was  all over in a couple of seconds. The young woman left. My line neighbor left as well, continuing to proclaim loudly that no way could it be that much.

Carson and I looked at each other. “I’m certainly humbled, ” I said.

“Me too,” he said.

I paid for my own groceries and beetled out to the parking lot. The young woman was still there, loading her children into a minivan. I marched over and offered my hand. “You make me hopeful about the future,” I said.

She looked both pleased and abashed. “I just try to follow in the Lord’s footsteps,” she said.

And that was that. She finished loading her children and drove away.


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