I was headed to pick up the last item on my grocery run when I heard a little, sweet voice say, “Can you help me?” I turned around and it was a little old lady to match the sweet, little voice. She wore a dirty, knitted hat over a matted, pixie cut wig. Her nylon jacket was soiled with oil stains. She was carrying a grocery basket with a bottle of prune juice. “I need some laxatives because I can’t go. I asked the pharmacist where to find them but he just motioned down this way and didn’t show me,” the old lady said. I told her that I’d be glad to help her and I walked her over to the next aisle where she could find the laxatives.
I thought to myself, “Easy enough, she should have it from here.” Then she confusingly asked, “Well what kind should I get?” Now she was asking the wrong person because I don’t remember taking a laxative since the chubby little kid me thought that the chocolate Ex-Lax in the my grandparent’s medicine cabinet was some type of “special candy”. She seemed helpless though so like a granddaughter helping her grandmother I agreed. There was men’s laxative and women’s laxative, fiber-based, enemas, stool softeners and natural laxatives. Damn, I forgot how real this digestive thing is. I picked a women’s brand off the counter and said, “What about this one?” I read the details and directions out loud to her and she was adamant about making sure that the price was low so that she could save money.
After getting confused about what type of laxative was right for an older person, I thought it would be best if we consulted with the pharmacist. “What is your name?”, I asked. “My name is Miriam,” she replied. “Well Ms. Miriam, I’m Perri. How young are you?,” I responded. “I’m eighty-four!” she exclaimed with an emphasis on the ‘T’ in eighty. I explained to Ms. Miriam that it would be better to talk to the pharmacist.
The pharmacist asked Ms. Miriam a series of questions to make sure her ailment wasn’t more serious than just being “backed up”. After confirming that everything was good, we focused in on Milk of Magnesium and Magnesium Citrate, the “holy grail” of laxatives. Ms. Miriam wanted both as long as they were cheap; but, the pharmacist and I talked her out of it. That was a disaster of epic proportions waiting to happen! With Ms. Miriam’s insistence on buying the cheapest option, I decided to offer to pay for the Milk of Magnesium for her. That way she wouldn’t have to worry about the price. I grabbed her grocery basket and put it in my grocery cart so she wouldn’t have to carry it. Ms. Miriam had become my grandmother for the moment. I felt it was my duty to look after her.
As we headed to the register Ms. Miriam pulled out a $20 bill to show me that she had enough to purchase the laxative. I assured her that it was ok. I didn’t mind buying it. Ms. Miriam seemed to be alone so to change the subject I asked, “Do you have any children?” She replied in her thick Southern accent, “Yes, one daughter. She lives in Gwinnett County, Georgia.” Then, unexpectedly, Ms. Miriam began to cry. She said her daughter didn’t come visit her much and her husband died in 2011. As I fought back tears I asked her if she had any other family. She said yes, they were scattered around the area throughout Gastonia and Belmont, North Carolina. I didn’t want her to be alone so I felt relieved.
We finally made it to the register and as we waited, Ms Miriam said, “You don’t have to do this. I don’t want anyone to think I’m a beggar.” Again, I assured her that I wanted to buy it for her. I didn’t give a damn about what anyone else thought. Then Ms. Miriam began crying again. “Ms. Miriam, what’s wrong?”, I asked. In a soft, sweet voice she said, “You’re so kind.” That took me out and I started crying with her. I said, “Well Ms. Miriam, I don’t have anymore grandparents and I’ve enjoyed getting to know you today. I didn’t have a second thought about helping you when you asked.” The people in the line lovingly watched as Ms. Miriam and I shared this heartfelt moment. I paid for her laxative and headed out to help her put her groceries in the car.
We got to the car and said our goodbyes. I had tears in my eyes as she drove away. She reminded me of my great grandmother, Isadora. You see, Ms. Miriam was so concerned about me buying a gift for her that she didn’t realize that she had unknowingly given me a few gifts as well. On this day, she gifted me with an understanding of patience and love for humanity. She also sparked my interest in spending time with elderly people at residential aide facilities. Ms. Miriam had inspired me to be a better person. After all, I’m not getting any younger and I might need someone’s assistance one day too. Thank you, Ms. Miriam.