Friday Night

I turned into our small town Walmart parking lot around 7 on an 85 degree, gnat plagued, Middle Georgia evening in June. A middle aged man in a light colored shirt stood outside a white minivan. The windows were rolled down and the side door open. A woman in a white dress holding a small baby stood nearby. The man held a sign that read, “Out of work. 4 children. Please help. Thank you.” I was headed inside for my once a week quarantine shopping trip—all our groceries and everything else that we think we might need and that Walmart supplies—and I decided I would be back to give them some money. I had picked up some cash in case we needed to pay someone for help with some unforeseen, quarantine related problem. We were still employed. We could help.

As I went through the store, overloading my cart—five gallons of milk, four dozen eggs, five loaves of bread, fruit and vegetables for a week, a package of toilet paper after a few weeks of empty shelves, and everything else. I worried, sporadically, as I tried to track down my shopping list.

Maybe they would be gone before I finished.

How much can we give them?

We can give $80, right?

We just spent more than that on our ready-to-cook meals for the week from Hello Fresh.

Should I give more?

My kids want popsicles. I can offer their kids a box of popsicles.

It's hot out. Maybe I should just offer them a choice of popsicles to eat right away. That's what I'll do.

I hope they are still there.

Hurry up and finish!

They are still there. Hurry and unload.

I jogged my cart across the parking lot to our minivan, like I do when I'm feeling anxious or happy—so two trips in three. I propped up the hatchback with a broom to keep the worn out piston supports from dropping it on my head while I jumbled our hodge-podge of reusable shopping bags and insulated coolers into the back of the van, trying to remember which bags had the bananas and peaches. I shoved the cooler with the popsicles in the side door so I could get it out quickly. I drove two parking rows back toward the entrance and quickly put the van it park. I took the money out of my pocket—folded up in my hand so it wasn't obvious how much. Giving the right amount was impossible, so I was embarrassed whether it was too little or too much. I grabbed the popsicle cooler, tore open the box tops, and stepped the 15 feet over to the family. I handed the mom the money—she was closest—and asked, through the beautiful, purple and green mask my mom sewed me, if anyone wanted popsicles.

The mother took the money in her free hand—the baby was that small—and offered sincere, submissive thanks. I was surprised by the Middle Eastern accent—I had expected a Latin accent. The father encouraged the oldest girl and boy, probably 10 and 7 years old, to pick a kind of popsicle. The 4 year old brother was asleep in his car seat. I understood, at 7:30 on a hot summer evening. I would have loved to leave a box for when he woke, but I didn't think to leave a cooler to keep it in. My brain began to register that this was my family, one year back. Both parents with some added weight from age and kids. Probably married in their late 20s. Four kids at approximately three year intervals.

The parents said thank you, profusely. The father touched his hand over his heart and inclined his head a little as he repeated his thanks. I said something inane about being fortunate to still have a job, and climbed back in my car and started driving away. As I turned across the town's main road toward home, I thought, maybe I should go back and see if we can help more. Do they need a place to stay?

I kept driving and started cursing out this world we have created. The unthinking selfishness of all the people who built our comfort by excluding and exploiting immigrants and other minorities. All the people who, with selfish uncaring, exploited our fears and hopes to keep the rich rich, the White White, the Christian Christian, and the poor and foreign poor and foreign. Cursing the choices of previous generations that had let our country sell out its government to rich corporations buying legislation through corrupt, or well-intentioned but compromised, politicians. Cursing the individualist ethos that enshrined unfettered, authoritarian, “free-market” Capitalism as God's government, and labeled good government, meant to work for everyone, as “Socialism!”

My whole, philosophical condemnation of my country, friends, neighbors, relatives, and elders, built up over three idealistic decades of wishing for a better world, bounced around my head as I took deep breaths to keep my eyes clear, and slammed my hands on the steering wheel. Two minutes later I got out of the car, grabbed the coolers of frozen food, and headed in the door, sobbing.

I couldn't stop. I couldn't talk. Somehow I communicated to my wife that I wasn't hurt. No one was hurt. I shoved the frozen food in the freezer and continued to ball. I was hunched over, leaning on the kitchen counter as my kids watched. I scrubbed my hands and face and washed my mask, still crying.

Back in the dining room, I sat on the floor in a ball, still unable to talk, with tears running down my face, my stomach and throat getting tired from clenching uncontrollably.

Several minutes later, I could finally tell my wife and kids what I saw and what I'd done. I could try to explain to my 11 and 8 year olds why I was so sad and angry. I tried.

#immigrants #ruralgeorgia #pandemic #family #youngchildren #crying