(This is part five of a series on community and friendship.)
Small towns need unspoken rules so we can all get things done. If you stop to talk to everyone you have ever known, you will never finish grocery shopping, because you know most everyone there. In my community we have developed a thorny system of shopping etiquette. It isn’t necessary to say hello to everyone, but you don’t want to be obvious in your brush off.
Picking up a carton of milk has turned into an awkward minefield of imagined snubs or pushiness depending on whose eyes met yours while sniffing cantaloupes for freshness the week before. We send our husbands or kids to the store or drive five miles out of the way to the next town just to avoid it all.
I have been called a snob when I didn’t hear people saying ‘hey’ from behind. I found out from a neighbor who heard from a church friend that I didn’t acknowledge Susie’s mom in Safeway, and she wonders if I might be angry about something. She has always felt bad about that time Susie threw up. She would have helped clean the car if she had known. . .
I wish I could call and explain how my hearing loss has progressed. But I have good and bad hearing days and the phone can be dicey. Moreover when I try to explain this to Susie’s mom’s friend’s church friend, she asks if I can hear HER ok right now. I am tempted to outline my audiogram frequency by frequency, but I opt for a simpler approach. “You know she has always had a soft voice,” I say of Susie’s mom. One could argue, but I manage to look sincere enough and she drops it.
That’s only half the story. It takes courage to push out of your comfort zone, to ram your cart against someone who is studiously avoiding you while you pretend not to notice. But sometimes we make assumptions without ever asking, “What’s up with you?”
I plan to change all that. If you see me in Safeway, you can run, but you cannot hide. Brace yourself. My shopping cart is coming.