checking all the boxes

We all know of women who are renowned for their accomplishments; women who have made a name for themselves on the national or international stage; women who have changed lives with their innovations, their breakthrough talents, their extraordinary hearts and brilliant minds. And for them we are left thankful and in awe, on our feet, applauding. Brava.

This post is about a woman whose universe is much smaller, but whose impact is hugely meaningful on a daily basis. Someone who puts her heart into each interaction every day (and we’re talking hundreds of face-to-face encounters); someone whose quick mind and amazing memory engender countless smiles of appreciation; someone who has made myriads of lives better by showing what it means to put herself into her work, by showing how much she cares, by showing up. By checking all the boxes.

No, she’s not a doctor, although she’s lovingly tended to her share of scraped knees and assorted owies, cared for an elderly parent over the past several years, and listened to a litany of workplace woes. She’s not a lawyer, although she’s settled lots of kids’ skirmishes and on-the-job customer issues for decades. She’s not famous by celebrity standards, either on a marquee or on social media, although she’s incredibly well-known among her weekly audience of fans. She’s not a scientist, although she seems to have the science of human behavior down pat. And she’s not an artist per se, although what she leaves as she retires this week is some kind of beautiful.

This woman is a supermarket checker, or at least she was until a few days ago. She held the very same job for more than 45 years, ever since she was 15, and she retires now having touched thousands of people over the decades with her charm, her decency, and her absolute niceness. Starting in high school and continuing through college, through marriage, divorce, and single motherhood, through her own series of life’s ups and downs, she has persevered. And done so wonderfully and meaningfully.

Having been her customer for 25 of those years, I’ve come to know her well (although I’m not the only one who would wait a little longer on her line just to have the chance to chat during the checkout process – probably why her line was always the longest). She’d always, always remember to ask about family, about how B.’s teaching was going, about how my writing was going, about when he and I were going up to the Bay Area for our next vacation. About how our respective moms were doing, about how my health was, about how much she enjoyed my book. And she loved (loves!) to talk about her son (now a grown man) and his bright future. Unbelievably, I’d hear her have the same kind of detailed, specific conversations with her other long-time customers, too, always remembering the ins and outs of people’s lives. And always caring enough to ask.

So there she was earlier this week, wearing a glittery “I’m retired” tiara and matching sash on her last day at work, continuing to ring up groceries while customers and coworkers stopped by in a steady stream, offering congratulations and best wishes and telling her how much they would miss her. And I was certainly one of them, handing her a bouquet of white hydrangeas and wishing her all the best. “It’s been wonderful serving you and knowing you all these years,” she told me warmly. “And I hope that you and B. get the chance to retire to San Francisco. I know how much you both love it there.” That last comment did it – I found myself welling up at her remembering how much that city means to us and having the insight to understand how wonderful that dream might be.

She’s moving to the other side of the country in a few months, relocating to be near her son and his growing family. This born-and-bred California girl is off to explore the next chapter of her life with an open heart, an open mind, and open arms. To those who are about to meet her, believe me, you’re in for something – and someone – special.

Check her out.

©2022 Claudia Grossman

5 comments on “checking all the boxes

  1. My eyes are about to spill out tears. What a wonderful person and what a gorgeous tribute. I hope she sees this.

  2. Awwwwwww…inspiring 👑

  3. What a wonderful testimony to your friend, and I am glad I got to meet her .

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