Living in the 21st century provides many perks and conveniences. For example, I can do most of my shopping online and have items delivered to my house without even having to change out of my pajamas. Talk about convenience! In fact, this shift in mobile purchasing has actually reshaped our country’s advertising and marketing strategies for Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year!
There are times, however, when convenience and speed aren’t necessarily a priority for me. As much as I love technology (I’m a tech-geek at heart!), there’s something to be said for doing things “the old fashioned way.” That’s how I feel about grocery shopping.
I think my fascination with grocery stores began when I was in college. I scraped change to make ends meet, never having enough money to splurge on “good stuff” (hence, I survived off ramen noodles, lol.) I loved coming home to visit my Grandma Payne and she would always end our visit with, “I’ve got to pick up a few things from the grocery store. Would you like to come with me?” This was always said with a smile and a wink because we both knew the trip would end with her writing a check well over $100 and my car being stocked full of necessities.
I remember walking with her through the aisles, never rushing, always taking our time looking at all the options. I can still hear the ping of the cash register buttons as the price was manually punched in. I couldn’t wait to be at an age where I could buy ANYTHING I wanted from a grocery store.
Even today, grocery shopping is my favorite chore. While I now make lists on my phone instead of paper, I still appreciate the old-fashioned feel of a grocery store. I like the brightness of the store. I enjoy chatting with the friendly workers who greet you with a smile as you walk down the aisle (not just at the entrance.) I like the fact that someone is willing to bag my groceries and take them out to my car without expectation of a tip. (Although, it took me a while to be OK with that one – I have tried to tip them so many times!) In fact, when I’ve been away from the house for a few hours, my family jokes that I must have ended up at a grocery store.
So you can imagine my delight in meeting Mr. Leslie “Leon” Hobbs five years ago. An older black gentleman, Mr. Leon was at the end of my checkout line, bagging my groceries as I tried to waddle through the narrow space to place my grocery items on the conveyor belt. I was 8 months pregnant, it was a hot and humid August day, and for the life of me I could not get around my cart to reach in and grab the canned vegetables that slid to the back of my cart. Mr. Leon tapped me on my shoulder saying, “Excuse me Miss, let me get those for you. You need to rest. You have a baby in there!” We both laughed as I backed out of the aisle (even the memory makes me laugh now because, seriously, I was HUGE!). Mr. Leon finished unloading my cart, then continued bagging my groceries and walked with me to my car.
“Where to, pretty Miss?” His smile was infectious. I was drawn to his sweet, southern style as we approached my car. “Now you need rest. You let me take care of those bags for you. You don’t need to work when it’s so hot out here. I’ll do it for you.” I will admit I felt a little awkward, even in my pregnant state, to stand idly to the side while an older man loaded my groceries. In my mind it didn’t seem right! I was perfectly capable of loading my own groceries! But the one thing I learned about Mr. Leon that day was that any argument would fall on deaf ears when it came to helping him do his job. This was HIS job and HE was going to do it!
After putting my groceries away, Mr. Leon reached into his pockets to pull out two plastic wrapped mints. “This one is for you, and this one is for the baby when he comes.” He would never take a tip, pushing back any money offered to him. “No ma’am, this is my pleasure to serve you. You are the reason I am so blessed to work here. Thank you for shopping at Kroger and allowing me to have this job.”
My day was always brighter after a visit with Mr. Leon.
Since that time, Mr. Leon has become a familiar name in our family. Whenever we shop at Kroger, we look to see which line he’s bagging and we will get in his line, no matter how long the wait. He seemed to have an endless supply of mints and somehow always found a way to slip in a “few extra” for the kids he knew I had at home. We always said “Hi, Mr. Leon!” if we saw him in or out of the store. His eyes would light up when you called him by name, yet they would spark a fire if you ever tried to grab those bags to load yourself. He took pride in his job, and it showed.
You can imagine my heartbreak when I learned that Mr. Leon had passed away this past weekend. What?! Not Mr. Leon! No! Like a child, I wanted to stamp my feet in refusal. How could this be?!
“To every thing there is a season… a time to live and a time to die.” It was my Grandma’s favorite bible verse (even carved into her headstone), and it was my immediate answer from God. Mr. Leon passed away because he was a good and faithful servant and his time was done. It was that simple.
I contacted the Kroger store manager, Mr. Scott Jones, and was told they would hold a balloon release later in the week in Mr. Leon’s memory. In the moment of acceptance, I felt so helpless. I wanted to do something, anything, to process my grief, but what could I possibly do to make anything better?
I RAK’d it out.
I accepted money from friends to pass along to his family.
I attended the balloon launch.
I signed Mr. Leon’s banner.
And I realized through all these acts of love and remembrance that I was not alone. Apparently Mr. Leon treated EVERYONE the way he treated me! So many people shared stories of how Mr. Leon brightened their day with kindness. It was truly overwhelming to see a community gather to show their appreciation for someone who carried groceries to their car. It only goes to show that you CAN make a difference in someone else’s life just by doing what you do, but doing it well.
I returned to my beloved Kroger store the day of his funeral to discover an empty candy bowl at his memorial site. I did the only thing I could do. I bought some mints from the store and refilled his cup for all the times he refilled mine.
The next time you are shopping and someone offers to bag your groceries, take them up on their offer. Smile at them. Let them know how much you appreciate them doing their job well. Take a moment to enjoy the “old fashioned” way of doing things. You never know how far your kindness will reach.