On Monday, December 22, I went to the See’s Candies Store to pick up my special order of 150 individually boxed truffles. I got there at 10:04 am but there were already seventeen people in line ahead of me. Eighteen people pretty much fill up the tiny See’s Candies Shop in this particular mall.
A digression while I describe the shop. It’s tiny, perhaps the size of the second bedroom in most tract homes. The shop has a white tile floor and white walls with black accents. It has looked the same since it opened there in the ‘70s. See’s captures that surreal retro/timelessness that certain movies (City of Lost Children) and some TV shows (Pushing Daisies) have. It seems as if you’re in some never-quite-was version of the 1920’s and Mary See herself, with her pince-nez glasses and her crisp shirtwaist, might appear behind the counter to take your order. The staff wear white and black also. The shelves lining the walls, and there aren’t many, display the seasonal packaged specials while a long glassed counter along one side shows off fudge, walnut roll and truffles.
They opened up a second line for people who were buying pre-packaged candy only, which was good, except it cleared out mostly people behind me. When I got up to the front, one of the counter people told me there were a couple of questions on my order and I would have to wait until Janice could help me. They gestured to Janice, who was at work on another good-sized special order.
I stepped into a backwater eddy of white tile and waited. Janice was pretty busy with her order, and several behind-me people got waited on. They gave me a second sample, though, so I couldn’t really complain.
Janice had migrated down to my end of the counter, near the register, and was bagging truffles for her customer. From behind me, an elderly lady stepped up to the counter. She wore a thick, faded red coat that was rubbed thin at the elbows and around the collar, sweat pants, a stretched, hand-crocheted scarf and thick socks. Her short gray hair was parted in the middle. Her shoes looked broken down but comfortable. I could guess that she lived across the street in senior housing, or that perhaps she wasn’t even that lucky. I could imagine that she waited until the end of the month each month, after the bills were paid from her pension check, to see if there were a couple of spare dollars to buy candy at See’s. She leaned over the counter and asked Theresa, at the register, for one See’s sucker. She reached into the coat pocket. Out came a disposable tissue and one dollar bill. The dollar looked about the same texture as the tissue. It had been folded into quarters and the corners curled inward. She smoothed it out and handed it to Theresa. A See’s Pop, or sucker, costs sixty cents.
Theresa took the money. Next to her, Janice took another See’s Pop from the display jar, set it next to the first one, and fished a dollar bill out of her apron pocket. “The second one’s on me,” she said, without really looking up from what she was doing.
I thought she must know the woman in the red coat.
This confused Theresa and it took her a couple of seconds to catch on, to hand the woman in the red coat her forty cents in change and the two suckers. Now the woman in the red coat was confused. “I only bought one.”
Theresa pointed at Janice, who looked up and said, “Well, you have two pockets in your coat, and I wanted you to have one for each pocket.”
The woman in the red coat smiled. “Thank you!” she said. She picked up the suckers and did, indeed put one in each pocket. “Thank you!” she went out. She had her back to me, but the people facing me smiled as she walked past them.
Next up in line was a woman with perfectly styled, perfectly colored brown hair, in winter-white slacks with a matching quilted winter-white jacket trimmed in rust-red. She handed Theresa a gift certificate. “Here. I want a pound box, half milk and half dark,” she said. “And you. Janice.”
Janice looked up, her blue eyes widening, pretty startled to be singled out.
Perfect Woman said, “What you just did was very nice.” She wiped her cheek. “You brought tears to my eyes.”
“Oh, it wasn’t any big thing,” said Janice.
Perfect Woman corrected her. “It was very nice.”
“It was just a dollar,” Janice said, “She comes in towards the end of the month sometimes. I just wanted to do a little something for her.”
Theresa said, “It’s like that movie, Pay it Forward.”
The perfect woman nodded. “Pay it forward,” she said. She got her box of candy and went out. I wondered if she were inspired by Janice’s example, and were imaging a way she, too, could bring a little bit of joy to a less fortunate stranger’s day.