Rarely does our Tuesday morning at Central Market deviate from the following routine:
- Park on Queen Street. Maybe hit the ATM. Feed two quarters and one dime into the meter.
- Walk to market.
- Buy doughnuts for kids.
- Pick up turkey sausage and snack sticks.
- Hand complimentary American cheese slices to kids. Purchase lunch meat and cheese.
- Get a boneless, skinless chicken breast, split.
- Buy three pears, four bananas, bunch of grapes, one red pepper and, occasionally, a small box of snap peas, green beans or Brussels sprouts.
- Pick up some CocoPops.
- Tell kids we do not have time to smell candles. Smell candles anyway.
- Hand each kid a dollar for dog treats.
- Buy either a pineapple coconut, mocha chocolate chip or cherry muffin for my breakfast.
- Exchange two or three empty half-gallon glass milk containers for two or three filled with skim milk.
- Count remaining change and buy two or three apples if possible.
This set of events is so ingrained in my brain, that I feel a wee bit off kilter if there are any wrinkles (say one of the stands is closed, or money is short for a particular item). This must be true of the kids too, as they rarely attempt to change the order in which we do things or seek out other stands along the route.
Today, however, we encountered the strangest departure from our drill to date. Only seconds after walking through the doors and ordering the doughnuts, an old woman wearing a babushka walks up to me, motions to Delton and Julia and asks in a heavy accent (Italian? Eastern European?), “Are these your kids?” Before I can answer, she thrusts a yellow plastic grocery bag into my hands, saying, “You take. Food. For the children.” Seeing I am flummoxed, she sets the bag down and carefully unties the double-knotted handles. She points out each item in the bag: a box of processed cheese food, canned beef and vegetables, a bag of powdered milk. I have a hard time understanding her, but I see sadness in her eyes as she says something about her own children. All I can think to say is “Thank you” and “Are you sure?” Mission accomplished, she backs away into the aisle, nodding and smiling.
I keep trying to make sense of this transaction. Was it some kind of omen? Is there some lesson to be learned? Here was a gift I did not seek—one that added to my burdens (those cans were heavy!) and is unlikely to benefit my family (I don’t think I could stomach canned beef or powdered milk). Yet, I was touched by the woman’s generosity. I regret not introducing myself or asking her name, but I hope my receptiveness to her gesture brought her some measure of happiness.