A few days ago, I was at the liquor store. (These are places which sell alcohol, for those who’ve never heard of such a thing.) I had heard an almost-familiar voice as I wandered the aisles, searching for the things which I already knew to be in their places. I looked to the side and saw an older gentleman, wallet out and open, fingering his money. He had a couple of tens and a few ones. He had a bottle of wine perched on one of the shelves. It was a nice one, a happy medium between cat urine and the kind one might drink at a million dollar wedding. Like men of his generation, he was carefully dressed, his white hair cut short and his shirt without a wrinkle.
Seeing him and hearing his voice reminded me so much of my Uncle Buck, who could be as jovial as a box of delighted kittens. To be frank, he also died from complications resulting from alcoholism. He and my aunt had decided a few years before his death to engage in a race to the bottom of their shared bottle. He won. But as troubled as his life was, he gifted me the word “snortee,” his humorous way of saying ‘a small drink.’ It was only after he retired that alcohol became his consuming passion. Yes, I recognize the incongruity of the word ‘snortee’ for someone who passed in this manner.
I told the cashier that I was going to pay for the elderly gentleman’s wine in addition to mine. Rarely do I question my impulses to pay it forward; so often they’ve rewarded me with reminders of the incredible overlapping of our lives.
“Are you friends or acquaintances?” she asked.
“No, I’ve never seen him before. But I bet he’s going to be tickled when he finds out someone bought his bottle for him.”
After ringing me up, the clerk toggled the conveyor and dragged the gentleman’s bottle forward and scanned his bottle.
“Hey, miss, that’s mine,” the man said.
“This man bought your bottle for you,” the clerk said and smiled, pointing at me.
The smile started at the older man’s chin and stretched halfway across the room. “Well, I’ll be. I never thought of getting a surprise at the liquor store, but I thank you and will most assuredly pay it forward!” He was beaming.
As I left, I turned to watch as the man strode with pride from the liquor store, as best as he could given his age. To my surprise, he opened the door to a minivan exactly like one my aunt and uncle had owned.
I’m not certain why I know it, but I am certain that the encounter pleased him and that he was contemplating it as he drove way, his life bifurcating away from mine.
Uncle Buck would have loved to share a laugh with that gentleman, in another life. In some small mundane yet wonderful way, we all saluted one another, even though one of us had long passed beyond this place.
The picture is of me on the left and Uncle Buck on the right.