back when i was a teenager, the church i attended used to mention services for the shut-ins. women called “deacons,” would take them communion, send them cards and bulletins, and “minister to the needs of the shut-ins.” i came to the place where i felt sorry for these folks, especially after i delivered a specialized list of groceries to two such souls during one week as “bag boy.”
Naturally, that job title is archaic now in the states, but back in my youth, the “bag boy” was a respected, low-paid individual who delivered groceries to the shut-ins, and anyone else not climbing out of bed on a Saturday morning to get their groceries. It also meant that i met just about everyone’s grandmother and grandfather…
…back in the days when a story was a story, and nobody cared when the groceries made it to the car anyway. Such were those splendid days, where hour upon hour slipped by like a carnival ride, often in a blur.
And in between those stories, I hoofed my way up the narrow lanes and streets to the land of the shut-in, where ma and pa sat in their favorite chairs watching the tube, or lay on a hospital-like bed as uncomfortable as a forced enema.
There I would chat a wee bit or get a gift in return, often items my parents did not approve of, but that is bound to happen on a trip to the shut-ins. You see, some weren’t all there, some told stories of the Argonne Forest, or thought you might be the little French girl that wandered out into the road among the Nazis. You took your chances when shaking their emaciated hands, but if you were lucky- or blessed- the disease never reached you.
I remember one fine day, sometime after lunch, when I was called upon to visit a lady with a French last name who lived in the corner of a 1950’s style apartment building. I was to go to her apartment, knock on the door, and take her list with me back to the grocery.
A simple task, surely.
But upon reaching the old lady’s brown door, I found her foot stuck inside the screen door. The poor lady grunted, as if having a difficult bowel movement, while I attempted to dislodge her ancient shoes from her ancient feet and rescue her from a certain disaster necessitating an ambulance call.
When I finally extracted her from the screen, she reached out to her tiny table to gather up a grocery list, then pulled from an envelope two bright yellow hair bows.
Now, you must understand, at that time, a bag boy wore a white apron around his mid section that looked a bit odd, and when tightened, restricted a bit of movement. The one I was wearing that day was too big for me, so I had tied it as adeptly as possible, still realizing that the top puffed out into the breeze like a large blouse on a little girl….and hoping I could find a clean one when I returned to the store.
“Take these, sweety. You need something. I dare say you’re the flatest girl I ever seed.”
I took the hair bows and stuffed them into my pocket.
“No, wear em.”
I ran from the porch, down the street, string undone, until the apron fell on the sidewalk, and I carried it into the store.
The Assistant Manager asked me what had happened to the apron.
I acted the dense teenager…until he snapped-
“Go get another one.”
I rushed back to the back room, hiding in the men’s room where I took the yellow hair bows from my pants pocket and flushed them down the commode…
…just another day in the adventures of a bag boy.