Waking up alone on a holiday is a particular type of solitude. Over the years I’ve come to dread it far less than I once did. But it is best, I’ve learned, to push back against holiday isolation with action. So when I realized I would be alone at home this Thanksgiving morning for several hours, I pegged that time to make some soup.
Chopping, stirring, and seasoning would be nourishing antidotes to the quiet, as I waited to attend a small afternoon dinner with dear friends. Travel to out-of-state family would follow the next day. But first, the soup.
Inevitably, I was missing one key ingredient—28 ounces of crushed tomatoes. Amazed to find Google declaring the nearest grocery store was actually open all day, I ventured out, for the first time ever, to grocery shop on Thanksgiving morning.
No one with any sense would be out buying canned tomatoes today, I scolded myself as I entered. Who are these people, anyway? They were an ordinary, but intriguing cast of characters, each deeply engrossed in their own mission.
First, we find Diligent Dan. DD has landed straight out of the mid-1980s, sporting a loose grey sweatsuit (now, there’s a word I haven’t typed in more than a decade) the style with gathered ankles, a wide elastic waist, and baggy legs. His gray hair stands straight up on one side of his head, his shirt tucked on one side, out on the other, his look trumpeting the priority of hunting and gathering over anything as insignificant as checking the mirror on this particular morning. DD is either exceptionally picky about his selections or utterly clueless about what he is after, for he lingers over choice after choice in the spices and baked goods aisle, glaring at his list and the labels in his hands, each in turn, seeking reconciliation between the two that seems to elude him. Sorry for his angst on this day of contemplating blessings, I wonder if someone waits at home, and whether they have budgeted for the time he invests on this excruciating analysis. Silently wishing DD Peace in Our Time, I slide my cart on past in pursuit of those crushed tomatoes.
Blocking the central traffic aisle and my access to the vegetable section we find a yammering pack we’ll call the Tripp Family Talkers. The TFTs are a party of five, a Mom and Dad and three young people, about college age, two boys and a girl peppering each other with questions and energetic responses that breed more of the same. Just home from school? Haven’t seen each other in eons, or perhaps arguing the merits of a forthcoming college football rivalry? Mom and Dad, one with a cart and one with an arm basket, are patiently trying to talk over this flow, while repeatedly interrupted by one of the youngsters, who carry nothing and seem to be along just for the conversation. The TFTs bob for several seconds like a school of fish on a gentle tide, destination maybe this way, maybe that, until finally one parent answers something in the affirmative and the TFTs drift comfortably away toward the checkout line, opening a passage hole in the central aisle for the rest us.
Breaking free to plunge ahead, I pass the Center Junk Aisle, where you might select any imaginable Christmas decoration that can be bought in the $3.99-ish range. Aware that we who oppose this encroaching holiday overlap will soon be as extinct as T-Rex, I am cheered to see this aisle is, on Thanksgiving morning, utterly and completely empty. Hooray for that, at least.
Finally, I pause in the canned tomato section to render my best DD imitation and compare labels for sodium content, while wondering why tomatoes must be crushed to go in soup. Isn’t that overkill? Snaring my no-sodium can and turning at last to go, I nearly bump into a young man, maybe late 20s. By his pace and aimless progress, he might be in the grocery, or might be anywhere—his lost expression cannot say. His eyes are red and swollen, his chin rough and stubbled, his ears plugged with earbuds, his gaze somewhere else. He carries nothing, so whatever he is after, he still seeks it. Hungry? High, or hung over? Grieving, missing home? Nowhere to go, so no reason to hurry? Or did he just forget his list? He does not notice me nearly bump him, and I stop short, rightly or wrongly, of the temptation to ask him if he needs something.
But his expression perches on my heart, and I wonder about him as my tomatoes and I make our way to checkout. Now my step quickens, as I check my watch. There is, after, all, something of a schedule to mind, and later, soup to simmer, turkey to share, fellowship to treasure. There are hearts and minds known to me, and I to them, and somewhere to be noticed, to be one of the lucky ones, beyond these few empty hours. From aisle 3, it is time to go forward, look outward, and give thanks.