Last week in the supermarket I had an encounter which inspired me to put ink on paper after a long hiatus. And for that I am grateful to the person who shared snatches of his life and philosophy.
My encounter was with a gentleman of indeterminate age. Although, from what he had to say, I guess he is in his eighties. We were pondering the small goods aisle. His opening line was how he was reminded of standing in long lines with his Mother at the local shop during war time. From his accent I assumed London, but he didn’t confirm. He could have been talking about anywhere in England during that time.
He told me how word would get out among the locals whenever one of the shops had a delivery of goods and there would be a rush to line up before it ran out. And how some people would come away with multiples of the same thing, even if they didn’t want it, because that was all that was left on the shelf. From the contents of his trolley I think the habit was ingrained.
He went on to grumble about Winston (Churchill), raising his eyebrows as he spoke in a way that said volumes, and then in a few short minutes he gave me a picture of life as a child in England during the second World War.
Of shrapnel from local anti aircraft fire shredding bicycle tyres, bricks flying from walls rocked by bombs landing streets away. How his father had reinforced their ceiling with timber battens, but they had been lucky enough to never find out if that strategy would work. So many memories flying from his mouth, coherent, none fighting for attention. All good memories as he relayed them; a child’s perspective of living and surviving wartime.
We parted ways then but later at the checkout he gently placed his trolley behind mine and the chat continued. He was visibly disappointed when I declined his offer of help; I had almost emptied my trolley at that stage.
“Everyone is so independent these days,” he said. I smiled in agreement, my thoughts straying in the direction of whether independence is a skill or simple necessity.
“Boy Scouts,” he said. I couldn’t help laughing at the picture of boy scouts escorting reluctant elderly ladies across the road. But I caught his drift and the chat became about charity; not so much the Red Cross variety, but charity towards others. He cited the current example of his charity to me – his chatter and friendship; my charity in listening to him, because it was mostly him talking and me listening.
On my part it was not charity but pleasure. We parted then each with our own trolley, mine filled with enough varied items for a week, his with multiple packs of long life milk and biscuits. I hope we meet again.