love at the grocery store

by bam

there were tears at the breakfast counter this morning. oh, not because the flakes got soggy. not because of bad news on the sports page.


it was the news that the big brother, the one who’s far away this week, won’t be home in time for tomorrow’s all-star game.

the little one, you see, is on the team. got voted there by the ones he slugs beside. the lineup of little stars who watch him leap and stretch and tumble, all in the name of making a TV-ready play.

the little one lives for games with balls. has far less patience when it comes to words and numbers. even less if there’s a pencil on the scene.

but give the boy a ball and he takes to it like he was born to make those muscles stretch, the synapses connect, the catching hand signaling the running leg at DSL speed.

i tell you, the kid is wired in ways that baffle me, his mother who could barely walk across a room without finding something there to trip on.

and the kid is utterly deflated that his all-star hero, his big towering eight-years-older brother, can’t be there in the bleachers.

he’d had hopes, he said, sniffling through his almost-tears, that his brother would be the one to call out his name, into the plug-in microphone, over the scratchy loudspeakers, as he approached the plate.

at the little ball park where the game is played, they go for schmaltz like that. good schmaltz, the best schmaltz; they play it up in pure old-fashioned ways.

glancing toward the breakfast bowl, once i saw the scrunched-up face, knew the tears were on the way, i did what any mama would: i dropped the spoon i’d just picked up, wrapped my arms around his shaky little shoulders, buried his soggy face into my fresh white t-shirt, gave no thought to the strawberry bits i would now be sporting in the bull’s eye of my belly.

i held him tight, and wished like anything i could rent a helicopter to get his brother home.

i tried talking so-called common sense, explained that no one knew, so long ago, that he’d be on the team, back when his brother made the summer plans, back when we penciled in the one short week away.

he blew his nose, the little one. slapped on sunscreen, shuffled off to camp. but as i drove him there i heard the sigh, asked, “what’s wrong?” he answered in two short syllables: his brother’s name.

i knew what that meant. i caught his face in the rear-view mirror. the boy was deeply sad, in one of those ways he’ll not soon forget. i can hear it now, 30 years away, the little one will rib his brother, remind him, how, when it mattered, he wasn’t there.

egad. dial ET, for emotional triage.

once i dropped him off at camp, i headed straight to the nearest first-aid station: the grocery store.

it’s often, at our house, the place to turn for makeshift reparations. end-of-a-long-week. half-birthday. any holiday from halloween to little easter. like a madwoman, i comb the shelves, find all sorts of bells and whistles to mark whatever is the moment. you’d be amazed what you find stocked at the all-purpose store. it’s where i spend my paycheck, with nary a second thought. long as it fits in a brown paper grocery bag, it’s hardly an indulgence. just a mama’s fix-it for whatever is the urgent need. and, besides, it’s open all night long, a convenience that’s downright essential when you’re someone who cooks up schemes at all hours of the night. and often on the fly.

i roamed the aisles, searched for all the balm and anti-sting cream that i could find. i started in the cereal aisle. found a limited-issue summer crunch, one with bats and balls to pour into your bowl. stumbled over to the streamer aisle, grabbed red and white and blue.

we’ll do it up, this all-star theme.

called the bread shop once back home (because i forgot to steer the car there), ordered up a loaf of cinnamon swirl, his breakfast favorite.

if i can’t bring on the brother, i can at least supply the band-aids.

it’s all we’re left with, sometimes.

too often.

and in the million other times a week when we flub it up, fall short, run out of steam, chase the little bugger back to bed (with nary a note of tenderness), well, we try and try again. most especially, when we think it counts.

we fill our grocery cart. we tuck away the treats. we scheme and hope.

we picture the little all-star, waking up to festooned room. sitting down to all-star slugger cereal, and swirls of cinnamon and sugar.

we’ll take pictures. tell stories. cheer our lungs out and our throats till they’re scratchy.

we’ll try to fill the stands with all the love we can muster.

and, yep, the seat beside me will be empty.

because sometimes all the wishing in the world won’t bring back the one you long to have there.

anyone else patch together a broken heart this week? what were the balms that worked for you?