By Randy Reynolds
I grabbed an energy drink from the cooler and got in line behind a man holding a fifty pound sack of Ol’ Roy on his shoulder.
He turned toward me and said, “This may take a while. She’s got two baskets piled high and you and me are paying for it.” With a nod of his head he indicated the overweight elderly woman in front of him wearing workout pants, baggy sweatshirt, and bedroom slippers. She had two buggies piled high with groceries.
“I bet you anything she’ll try to pay with food stamps,” he said. “People like that get my goat.”
He looked at me intently, as if expecting an answer, but I don’t talk food stamps with white guys in line at a Walmart in the South. Like the coward that I was, I shrugged and said, “I know what you mean.”
Not even trying to keep his voice down, he said, “Laying around in bed all day, too lazy to work, sponging off the government, living large on my tax money.”
The old woman, still unloading her second buggy, looked up and said, “They’re not called food stamps anymore. It’s SNAP—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.”
“Well, it’s food stamps to me,” said the man with the dog food. “And you’re paying for it with my tax money.”
I wanted to look away, but the rheumy eyes of the old woman held my attention.
“It’s not your business, sir, but just so you know, we’re not getting rich on food stamps. I have eight kids and two adults besides me under my roof and we get four dollars a day per person. That’s a dollar thirty-three per meal per person.” She pointed to his bag of dog food. “You can’t hardly even feed a dog for that.”
“Well, there’s plenty of jobs out there. You should go get one, and try working for a living for a change.”
“I have a job, sir. I work at a nursing home, Lexington House. I worked eleven to seven last night and I’ll be there again tonight.”
“What about the other adults in your house? Why don’t they have jobs?”
“Because one of ‘em has A.L.S., Lou Gehrig’s disease, and barely gets around any more and the other is nine months pregnant. Not that it’s any of your business.”
The dog food man turned to me and rolled his eyes.
I said, “What kind’a dog you got?”
“Labs have a sweet disposition,” I said.
“Oh, yes. Smart, too.” He dropped the dog food onto the conveyer.
Ahead of us, the cashier gave the old woman a receipt and helped place bags of food in the two buggies. I heard the old woman say, “M’am, will you watch this basket while I take the other one to the car?”
The cashier said, “Sure.”
“Just get it out of my way,” said the dog food man, pushing the closest buggy forward with his foot.
The buggy hit the old woman in the thigh. “I intend to, sir, just give me a moment.”
“This is ridiculous!” said the man. “Can’t we get this line going?”
“I don’t want this drink anyway,” I said, setting the energy drink on the conveyer belt behind the dog food. “Excuse me, sir.” I squeezed past him and said, “Ma’m, I’ll take one of those baskets for you.”
The old woman said, “God bless you, sir. I hate to be such a nuisance, but…”
“No problem,” I said. “We all need a little help now and then.”
As I placed her groceries into a van with a wheelchair rack on back, she tried to give me a dollar. “No, ma’m, that’s not necessary. Put it away.”
“Well, I don’t know how to thank you.”
“No thanks necessary.”
“What did you say your name was?”
“Well, Randy, I’m Jeanelle,” she said. “I hope God will bless you for helping out an old woman.”
I smiled. “I’m sure He will, ma'm.”
The man with the bag of Ol’ Roy came down our lane in the parking lot. I half-expected him to stop and inspect Miz Jeannelle’s grocery bags to make sure that her purchases were in line with what he thought a SNAP recipient should eat. I nodded and gave a little half-wave to acknowledge him, the kind of thing Southerners do even if they’ve only met a person once, casually, in the check-out line at Walmart. But he looked right through me, scowling, and walked on by.