Late afternoon at the grocery store. My Tato is watching his wnuczki while I run to the store and buy some milk, bread, frozen lasagna, and some ready-made salads for my lunches.
I'm waiting in line behind a Hispanic couple. The woman has a child on her hip, thumb in her little mouth, less than 1 year old. There are two other children in the plastic red car shaped shopping cart. None are old enough to be in school yet.
They have a gallon of milk and bread for their purchase. That's all.
The man is trying to pay for the food with a WIC check. He's confused. The woman is quiet and looking on, you can see she is stressed. Their clothing is mismatched, stretched, the way clothing looks when you are given final hand-me-downs. The woman doesn't have makeup on and you can tell she tried to do the best she could with her hair with an extremely limiting budget. They only speak Spanish.
The check is old, it expired a couple of days ago. They flip through their WIC folder with the cashier. There are no new checks.
I feel uncomfortable. I'm not sure how I understand the conversation. Body language, Dora the Explorer, an insane amount of curiosity (or am I too proud to say that I'm nosey?).
They pull to the side and start talking to one another in whispers. The cashier starts to ring me up while another worker goes to put their items back.
"Stop. I'll buy their milk and bread."
The workers pause, look at me as if I have three heads. I blush. I gesture to the family and tell the cashier, "I don't speak Spanish. Could you please tell them not to leave? I need to buy their bread and milk."
I mean it. I need to.
What is $5? Perhaps dinner for that family. A family that lives in my community. A family with three small children and two parents who are obviously just trying.
I'm still blushing. I toss a smile on my face because I know the last thing that family needs is a look of pity and I'm not sure what my face is communicating. I don't feel pity. Pity means you can't relate to the person but still feel sorrow for them.
And I can relate. That mother and father, they are in the same position as my parents were years ago. And nobody gave a shit when my parents were at the store and unable to buy something as simple as bread and milk for my brother and I.
The cashier walks over to the mother, talks to her in Spanish, gestures to me, and I put my hands together, almost in prayer.
Please, just let me. It's only milk. I need this as much as you do. Please.
The mother looks at her husband, he glances, shrugs his shoulders in a way that men are so capable of doing. He looks down at his feet, turns slightly so that his shoulder is pointing at me.
His body language says it all...
I'm embarrassed. I can't provide for my family. But we need this. Don't make eye contact with me, don't see the look on my face.
But he knows as much as I do, children come before pride.
I'm mentally kicking myself. I just embarrassed them. It wasn't my intention. But I needed to help.
The mother walks up, nods her head at me, takes the milk the cashier hands her. She refuses the bread. I understand. That would be too much pride lost.
It's just a gallon of milk. But it's infinitely more.
They walk away. I take a deep breathe. I say a mental prayer. For them, for me, for everyone and everything. God, give us strength to give help and to accept help.