The usual, boring, and terribly short Thursday route. Of all the routes I run, this is my least favourite. Today started as nothing but more of what I hated. Warm and humid, and then it started raining. If there's anything I hate more than this Thursday route, it's doing this route in the rain.
My first stop after the rain started was a small little store, tucked at the bottom of a hill. Halfway between Loysville, PA, and Blaine, PA, this is the only convenience store around for miles, and this may very well be the only store some ever see. The place is owned by an old lady, whom I'd never met before. Apparently, at least from what I've deduced, she's homebound. There's a sign on the door advertising for part time work, helping at the store, and caring for an elderly female. I put two and two together a while ago, but I'd never known if I was right. Always I was greeted by a middle-aged woman, but rarely the same one.
As I walk in the door, I remind myself that I hate this place. They never take much ice, maybe 25 bags a week in hot summer weather. "This place is worthless," I whisper under my breath.
This morning something was different. As I checked "my" ice, I got the funny feeling that no one was there. After spending a minute or two rotating ice, noticing that fewer than 15 bags had been sold, I finally decided no one really was not there. Taking advantage of the squeaky wooden floors, I walked around a bit, looking for the loudest spots possible. Nothing. Nobody came. The loudest spot turned out to be right next to the crates of freshly delivered milk. I'd seen the milk man down the road a few miles, so these had been sitting here about 10 minutes. "Somebody really needs to put this stuff away," I muttered, still squeaking floors.
I just wanted to let them know I'd be back next week since I wouldn't be delivering any this week, and then get the hell out of there. I thought about just leaving. Something told me not to.
Behind the counter, there's a doorway which leads to a kitchen area. The store also serves as the house for the owner. I peered into the doorway. Nobody there. Just leave man, it's no biggie.
Instead, "Hello, is anybody here?" hops out of my mouth and around the corner. I hear noises almost immediately. Slowly the noises come closer. An old lady materializes from around the corner, breathing heavy, and moving slower than Stanford S. Kingsborough (and that's another story, I'm afraid).
"Hi. Umm. I'm just the ice man. Ya'all won't be needing any ice this week, so I'll be back next week. Alright?"
"No help here at all right now, huh?"
"No help at all, today," she managed, between coughs.
"Oh. Umm..." Mentally I sized up her physical abilities, as my mind wandered over to those crates of milk. She was never going to be able to do it. "You mind if I put this milk away for you?"
"That would be wonderful."
And wonderful it was. I was working on somebody else's clock, so I hurried, but I was thorough. I made sure all the handles and labels were facing the same way. I rotated stock. I checked expiration dates. I ran out of room. She let me know about the secret refrigeration area underneath the fruit. The rest of the milk fit in there, along with the several gallons of iced tea that were also in the crates. 12 crates in all. I remembered where I'd last seen empty milk crates and proceeded to carry them across the store, out the door, stacking them neatly under the window. This task accomplished, I joined the old lady back in the store, who was now behind the counter.
"Anything else I can do for you before I leave?"
"No, thank you. Here, take this."
She pushed a golden dollar across the counter, towards me.
My mind pushed back thoughts of how stupid those dollars are, how much I hated them, and how many postal workers should be drawn and quartered for pushing the damn things on all their customers. This was the shinest golden dollar I would ever see in my life and I was not about to tarnish it.
I cupped my hand over the coin, slowly inching it back towards the lady, across the smooth, heavily worn surface of the solid oak counter. "No, thank you. It was my pleasure. I'll be back next week. Have a good one." Gently I lifted my hand, leaving the dollar in its place, and leaving the store as quickly as possible.
Oh, bother. Now, I can't wait to go back.
p.s. October 23th, 2001: I ran this route today, for the last time. I quit this job (although I have since returned) and today was my last day of work. This stop was supposed to be skipped on the route, but I stopped anyway. I am not one to waste time on an ice route, even on my last day on the job, but I stopped anyway. Something said, "Stop here." So I did. Most of me wishes I had never stopped, but I stopped anyway.
Ever seen a stranded motorist and kept on going? Maybe you felt guilty about it for the next few miles, maybe you wondered what would happen to that person. But I dare you to try to think of a specific instance where this happened to you. You can't. You know it's happened, but you don't know when.
Be thankful. Not knowing can be a wonderful thing. Eventually, you'll stop thinking about it, and stop wondering about not knowing, and you will move along in wonderful, unintentionally ignorant bliss.
The store took no ice that day. The store has not taken ice since, because it no longer exists. Ten years from now, people won't even remember its name. Bishop's Grocery.
At least she died in her sleep. She doesn't have to know that her store, her life, doesn't even have a sign out front any longer.