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Tuesday, 04 September 2018

Ghosts in my Supermarket

   I've lived most of my life in my home town. There are many good things about this. Continuity. Old friends everywhere. I know where the mustard sardines are.

   But entering my market also brings back memories of the generations I've known who are now gone, the result of shopping in the same place for more than sixty years. Usually, I'm thinking of other things when I shop. What to buy for dinner for my wife and me. A plumbing problem in my house. Something I'm writing. So I am always startled when I bump into people I know and have to, quickly, remember their names. Is this someone who was a friend of my parents or a friend of mine when I was in high school, or in college, which was also in my home town? Or maybe this person is a friend I worked with in one of the businesses I ran in my twenties in the area. Or perhaps even an employee of mine back then or someone who bought ice cream from me at my ice cream shop or who came to the college bar I ran in those days called The Wild Oat. Or someone who once attended a book signing of mine or who I served with on some board or who I played tennis with, possibly even for years. The list seems endless.

   I feel my mind becomes a very imperfect computer as it runs through the possibilities when I see someone I may not have encountered in forty or even fifty years. And occasionally, I see a ghost.

   I run into someone who reminds me of an old friend of my parents. Someone I know, or at least am pretty sure, has been dead for a quarter century. But there they are. Not a ghost but real.

   Many people look alike, of course. Add in the factor of seeing someone who must have changed greatly in twenty-five years, and you have a conundrum. Is this the actual person I thought was long gone? I try to recall if I once saw their obituary. Or perhaps it's someone who resembles what the ghost looked like a quarter century ago. Or could it be their son or daughter who reminds me of them?

   Despite my own rambling thoughts, I often think about many of these people when I'm shopping. I used to run into my old high school physics teacher and my old band director frequently enough that I actually knew who they were each time, and I greatly enjoyed having a chat with them over the cauliflower. Incredibly, they also remembered me! Incredible because physics and band were two of my worst high school experiences. Perhaps students like me are always the ones they remember. Now they are both gone, and I miss those encounters. But sometimes, from behind at the checkout, I'm certain that person ahead of me in line is my old physics or band teacher.

  Today, the generations who were friends or colleagues of my parents and whom I talked to often in the store are also gone. Now, old high school friends are starting to go away as well. And this, if anything, is more difficult. It reminds me of my own mortality.

   Where will it all end? Will I beat the odds and become one of the ninety-year-olds myself? Someone who will help others to place themselves at some point in their own life trajectories. "You'll never guess who I saw in the supermarket today," they will say. "Old Chris Angus! I thought he died twenty years ago!"