Friday, February 24, 2012

A trip to the commissary

I've written before about how I sometimes miss my old life. Today was one of those days when I stepped back in and felt that strong surge of pride and nostalgia .....

I ran to the commissary after a day of conferencing with students--the ones who showed up. I'd forgotten to take a lunch so by the time my groceries were bagged and I was headed out the door with my bagger, I would have eaten a rabid raccoon was pretty hungry. At the commissary the bagger doesn't put my groceries in the cart and hand them over to me. He bags them, puts them on his cart, and takes them out to my van* where he unloads them for me. Then he closes my hatch and I tip him $5. That's the way it works. Some of the baggers are young airmen augmenting their measly pay; others are retirees or Asian wives.

Today my bagger (a tall young man with a short military haircut who was asking the cashier to set him up with her girlfriends) and I stepped out the door into a bitter winter wind that was traveling about 40 mph right through our coats and throwing tiny icy snowballs into our eyes. Just as we got to the curb, the sound of trumpets going toodley doo came through the loud speakers that are scattered around every Air Force base.

In spite of the wind and the sharp icy snow, we both immediately stopped. He dropped into parade rest and we waited. Ahead of us in the parking lot other people raised their heads to listen and stopped where they were. Cars rolled to a stop, and a woman waiting in her SUV for her bagger to load her groceries cracked her window a few inches. Then, except for the wind, nothing moved.

The warning toodles ended and we listened to silence for a few seconds before the brass section of the Air Force band hit the first notes of "The Star Spangled Banner," and the young man at my side came to attention. I listened as I always do with tears in my eyes, this time knowing the boy man who stood so tall and straight at my side will probably be sent to a warmer, sandier climate sometime soon. The trumpets hit their high note and I felt a tear fall.

It's a trigger, that song. Every day at 5:00 the entire Air Force base stops and pays tribute through the loud speakers, and time stops for just a few minutes. I can't count how many times I stepped outside my door in base housing so I could hear it and join in the ritual. Or how many times I've stood in the base movie theater where the song is played before every movie. It doesn't happen often now, but today I was lucky. I was there to stand and listen.

After the song ended, the bagger and I continued on through the wind and pellets to my van. I opened the hatch and realized I'd forgotten to drop off a bunch of stuff I intended for Goodwill. Damn it.

"I'm sorry I've got so much junk in my trunk," I said. "Just stick it in there anywhere."

I could see him in my peripheral vision, but I couldn't look at him. He stood there with one of my bags of groceries in his hands. Again, time stopped as neither of us moved. OK, I think his head was lowering very slowly as he tried not to react, tried not to look at me, considered what would happen if he just took off running.

"Oh, shit. I can't believe I said that. I meant to say .... I mean I've got this junk ... this stuff ..... it needs to go to Good Will and I forgot it was in the back of my ..... I'm not going to save this am I?" I finally glanced over at him and he finally stopped struggling to hold back his laughter.

"No, ma'am, you are not," he said. And then he loaded my bags in the back of my van. I handed him a $5 bill and he slammed my lid and told me to have a good day. I probably should have given him $10 just for the unfortunate image I left him with. 

* I've been getting shit lately about the 11-year-old Honda Odyssey I drive. It doesn't fit me any more, I guess. My only excuse for not driving a appropriately muscley car is that the van is paid for. And I'm too lazy to go out car shopping and buy a new one.


  1. part 1: i cry, too. i remember being at a squadron bbq when it happened. 80 cops coming to attention? whew.

    part 2: OMFG. YOU WIN LIFE.

  2. Part 1: That would make me lose it.

    Part 2: Most days I'm lucky if it's a draw, but I'm sure nobody wants to hear me whine here. ;-)