by Lillian Rodberg
February 14, 2002, I was waiting to check out my Tasty-Kakes and a sandwich of ham and egg on an English muffin. The Turkey Hill Minit Market in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, is always busy, because it’s on the main route in and out of this small suburb whose “skyscrapers” are steeples. Though I’ve moved to the “big city” (adjoining Allentown), I still come back to this spot for convenience shopping, because everyone knows my face if not my name.
The clerks were extra rushed because it was Valentine’s Day. Besides the usual snacks and lottery tickets, people were buying single roses or bunches of them and hurrying back to their cars. Someone noted how wonderful it was that with the changing season, at 5 p.m. it was still light outside now. But it was the rush hour, with people anxious to get home from work, and few of the people in line responded to the clerks’ greetings. Even fewer people wished them a nice evening.
One elderly, very heavy woman who was paying for ice cream and some snack items smiled at the clerk who was taking what looked to be her last $20 plus 21 cents she had to dig for. She nodded toward the roses and said “I hope someone brings you a bunch of these tonight.” The clerk smiled a bit ruefully. “That would be nice, but I don’t think it’s likely to happen.”
The customer accepted her plastic bag and headed out the front door out to her car. Several of us women in line (all over 50, I would bet) began to talk idly about when was the last time we’d gotten flowers, and we all agreed it had been a long time. Then the kind lady came back in, a few crumpled bills in her hand. My guess is that they were “turnpike money” from her beat-up car. She looked at the bunches of six roses. The sign said the price was $9.99.
“Can’t do it,” she said, shaking her head sadly. Then she picked out a single, gorgeous orange-red rose. The same clerk rang it up and started to hand it back.
The customer shook her head. “No,” she said. “I hope you have something to put it in, because it’s for you all. I think clerks in convenience stores have one of the most thankless jobs in the world.” She smiled at them all. “Happy Valentine’s Day!” Then she rushed for her car and chugged away.
The three clerks were almost in tears. What a lift that unassuming woman gave to them — and to everyone privileged enough to watch.