Mom must have been weighing her options. Patty had stayed home from kindergarten because of tonsillitis. Again. Kim was only one. I was three-and-a-half and coloring in the living room so my sisters could sleep in the bedroom the three of us shared. It was almost lunchtime.
We were out of bread.
Apparently, there could be no lunch without bread, because Mom decided to put a quarter, a nickel, and two pennies in my three-and-a-half year old fist, and send me to The Corner Store to buy a loaf of bread.
“Remember, it’s the one with the red, yellow, and blue balloons.” Mom the Savvy Shopper
I would have to cross two streets. Alone.
Of course Mom warned me:
“Look both ways before you cross the street, and Watch. Out. For. Cars.” Mom the Wise
This is where I started.
Now turn left, and stand in front of the house next door. It’s on the corner. This is where I was going.
I stood on our corner for a couple minutes, waiting for a car to come so I could show Mom that I knew how to wait for it to go by before I crossed. No car came, but I waited until Mom yelled:
“Go ahead! Cross the street!” Mom the Impatient
I walked past the Kinzie Avenue end of Fratt Elementary School, to Arthur Avenue, the second street I had to cross to get to The Corner Store.
I stood on the corner of Kinzie and Arthur, determined to wait for a car. If Mom was yelling, I couldn’t hear her.
After a few minutes, a trash truck came toward me on Kinzie and turned onto Arthur, right in front of me! I waved and the guy in the passenger seat waved back. I’ve loved trash trucks ever since.
Inside The Corner Store, the bread with the red, yellow, and blue balloons sat on a shelf just inside the door. Higher than I could reach.
Tilting my head back so I could see the bread with the red, yellow, and blue balloons, my sweaty fist clutched the coins, and tears welled. Lower lip quivering, I needed help. I wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers, but people who worked at the store would be okay, right?
I ran to the butcher counter at the back of the store. It looked a lot like this one:
It took a while to get the butcher’s attention. He must have been a bachelor butcher; I’m pretty sure a dad would have cared about the little kid crying in front of the cold cuts. When he finally asked what I needed, his advice was to ask somebody at the front of the store.
I believed was he was trapped back there or he would have come with me and helped me.
I cried all the way back to the bread. There were a few people around, but nobody I knew who worked there, and I still wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers no matter what the butcher told me to do.
I stood there crying at the bread with the red, yellow, and blue balloons.
That’s when a lady in a flowery dress stopped to get her own bread. She didn’t have any kids with her, but I knew she was somebody’s mom because she looked right at me and said:
“What’s wrong, sweetie?” A Mom to the Rescue
As I recall, she even smiled when she handed me the bread.
I paid at the cash register counter, just like I’d watched Mom do, and I hurried home. No more waiting for another car to prove I could do the right thing. No more tears. No plans to go to any store alone again until I was at least five feet tall. I was just going home. To have lunch.
Mom used the same peanut butter and jelly she always used to make my sandwich with white bread from the bag with the red, yellow, and blue balloons, but this time, it tasted like triumph.
What challenges do you remember from your short days?