From across the grocery store, her eyes locked onto mine.
I’ll call her Betsy.
There I was, standing by my little butane burner, in a schwanky grocery store, cooking gnocchi samples and handing them out to shoppers as they hurried on past me.
She looked shyly at me, then looked down. I marked her progress as she stopped at the various displays, taking a circuitous route to where I was. First the deli case, then the mounds of gorgeously-arrayed fruits and vegetables. Past the stands of crackers, cupcakes, cookies. Sashaying by the cheese case. Step by delicious step, she worked her way over to me. It was an epicurean obstacle course.
She kept trying to look disinterested, casual, unhurried, but her feet carried her closer and closer. Feet don’t lie.
Betsy looked like a woman from another era. Properly dressed, she wouldn’t dream of going to the grocery store in sweats and a ratty tee shirt. She sported a pillbox hat, and looked more like she was ready for church than the Friday evening mosh pit of a grocery store.
She finally approached me and timidly asked what I was cooking. I asked her if she would like to try a sample. She told me she was afraid, but she still had a twinkle in her eye.
I smiled at her, told her it was potatoes, eggs and flour, nothing too unusual.
“I like potatoes!” she said enthusiastically. And so she tried one.
She loved it.
She asked where she could find more. I offered her my arm, and I escorted her to the aisle where the gnocchi live.
We chatted and she shared with me how she’s getting braver about trying foods unfamiliar to her, how she ventures out and samples things at the deli she’s never had before. We laughed about, oh, I can’t even remember, probably the little absurdities of life.
My conversation with “Betsy” lasted all of maybe five minutes.
But there was so much unspoken dialogue in those 300 seconds. Betsy is an African-American woman who carries herself like she’s waiting for someone to tell her no. She has that cautious aura of someone who has had their hands slapped away from the cookie jar one too many times, and now afraid to even ask for just a crumb.
As for me, I’m trying to shed the restraints of my collective ancestry, the ones that tells me women should be subservient, and that I should make a good marriage and have kids because I will need them to take care of me when I get older.
Two women, from two minorities, from two different generations, bonding over food neither of us grew up with.
It was quietly awesome.
There has been so much ugliness this week, and I fear it will only get worse.
So I would like to share with you my beautiful five minutes with Betsy. Because it matters.