Lesson in the grocery checkout

Stephen Harris

April 13, 2013

I had a lot to do on a recent Saturday, and picking up milk and some other things at the grocery store was not one of the chores with which I wanted to bother.

So I rushed through the store and hoped to breeze on out to more important things.

Oh, no. There were three checkout lanes open, but traffic was stalled. One checkout had the checker absent, perhaps to check a price or something. Another line was stalled for someone fishing through her purse for change, and the third was stalled for a reason I couldn’t figure out.

“I’ll take someone over here,” announced an eager young man, whom I did not know and had not seen in the store before. He summoned from a fourth checkout that he was opening. I appreciated the young man’s attentiveness.

Since the couple in front of me did not move and take advantage, I didn’t need much prompting to slip over and be first in the new line.

The fine young man efficiently scanned my eight items and packed them in my Red Cross reusable mesh bag that I take to stores to avoid using plastic bags.

As I fumbled with the receipt and accompanying store coupon the patron behind began to strike up a conversation with the fine young man. He must know the fellow, I thought.

I looked up. To my surprise I saw Randy Bledsoe, superintendent of Elkin City Schools.

“When did you come in?” Bledsoe asked the fine young man behind the counter. “When do you get off?” Bledsoe continued.

I caught myself staring, wanting to say hello to the leader of Elkin schools, not that he would know me or anything.

However, I never caught his eye. The superintendent’s attention was riveted on the fine young man, whom I took to be a student.

I could not bring myself to interject myself into this special moment, and I knew I was eavesdropping. So I took off.

As I cast one last glance back before heading out the automatic door Bledsoe was still chatting. He was not in the hurry that I was.

In my school days I never met my superintendent. I did not even know his name. And I worked in a grocery store, too, for two years while I was in high school. It is ironic I can recognize the Elkin superintendent now but never knew my own.

Call the scene in the grocery store an example of a benefit of living in a small town. You’re more likely to run across people - people you know, people you only barely know and even people you know only from the news, like Bledsoe.

A small community like ours doesn’t guarantee closeness, doesn’t guarantee comity, of course. That takes a little extra effort, a little extra time. It takes opening yourself up a bit, taking a risk to speak or to listen.

But anyone can do it. You don’t have to be a school superintendent. Anyone can be an encourager, can look for opportunities to spread a good word here and there.

On that same morning, after breakfast at my favorite West End Elkin restaurant, as I prepared to leave I got an invitation from a trio of neighbors to come sit and chat. I didn’t take advantage. I had too much to do. I excused myself to get on with my day. That was my loss.

The biggest mistake I made in school was not making a greater effort to know my teachers, professors and other instructors a little better, on a more personal basis.

How much more wisdom I could have mined had I sought them out for some sage advice via some simple conversations outside of the class period. I should not have been in such a hurry all the time to get along to the next class or to the next thing to come along.

I needed more chats like the one I saw in the Elkin grocery store.

That moment at a grocery checkout reminded me of a very important lesson. The best education gets personal.

An assembly line is great for manufacturing products. An assembly line is terrible for manufacturing young people.

I hear from folks who’ve moved away and long to be back here. I think I know why.

A quick way to explain why is to describe the satisfying scene of a bigwig at the grocery checkout showing a little interest in a fine young man.


Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.