I’m standing in line at Walgreens. In my arms and hands are one boxed walker basket, two handicapped reachers, and three bought prescriptions. Stephen has just caned his way past me and is headed for the car. I’m kind of tired; this has been a busy day of short car rides and various stops.
I’m watching a friendly African-American woman check out what I take to be an ensemble of three generations of a Hispanic family. I’m assuming this is the under-forty grandmother, her daughter, and the two sleeping infant children of the daughter in a semi-covered black baby carriage.The daughter has just purchased some kind of dehumidifier device. Presumably, someone is having respiratory difficulties of some kind at home. Also, apparently, neither the grandmother nor the mother of the two children speak very much English. They slowly make their purchase and head for the door.
The checkout lady says, “That is the heated one. It won’t help with your breathing.” They stop and look at her, purchase and baby carriage in hand. They don’t understand. The lady continues, “You need the cold one if you want to help your breathing.” All this is said in a helpful manner and tone. However, it is obvious that the checkout lady’s language skills are also limited on the other side of the English to Spanish translation corridor. Some silence, slight frowns on faces. “Put your package here on the counter if you want to go back and find the cold one.” Grandmother and mom still are looking hesitant and uncertain.
Now I have always loved language learning. I really only can claim one and a half languages, English and German. And several computer languages. But I have had a smattering of Chinese, Russian, French, and, yes, Spanish. Even though the two Hispanic women have yet to say a word, my mind is subtly clicking in to Spanish gear.
“You need the one with cold, not the hot one,” the still patient and friendly but Spanish impaired saleswoman says. From somewhere in the depths of my mind comes this, and I say it out loud: “Fría, no caliente.” The middle generational woman looks at me and smiles, then looks at the box she is carrying. I see a look of recognition on her face. “Si,” she murmurs, placing her purchase down on the corner of the counter and heading back into the store.
For some reason, this primitive interchange warms my heart. It’s a reward for my new orientation to life, I’m sure of it. I’ve stopped doing so much looking inside of me. I’m making sure that I smile at whomever I encounter in the stores or on the streets. Life is good again.