Food Court

She asked if I minded if she sat at my table, since the mall was so crowded. I said not at all, be my guest. She thanked me and told me that she was starving. We sat across from each other at the tiny table, eating silently and staring off at random points in the distance for ten minutes or so, when she asked me how my Christmas shopping was going.

Actually it’s going fairly well, I said. I have a few things to pick up for my mother and sister-in-law, but other than that I’m in pretty good shape.

She said that was good to hear. I asked her if she was finished herself, or still had a lot of shopping to do. As she responded, I watched her eyes. They were small and perfectly round, pale blue with pink-rimmed lids. I would estimate that she was in her early-seventies, though she wore her blondish tinted hair in a style that was much younger.

She didn’t smile often, but when she did, her face completely transformed.

In a voice so soft that I often had to lean in to hear her, she told me about her Christmas plans. She was going to her nephew’s house, at least I think that’s what she said. Whoever it was, he is very well-off, according to the woman, and lives out in Lake Barrington. I raised my eyebrows and said, well now!

He never lets me bring anything, but this year he agreed to let me bring a dessert, the woman told me. One dessert, he told me, and he’s having 22 people over, can you imagine that, she asked? Serving prime rib for all those people, if you can believe it. Plus he has shrimp cocktail and other hors-d’oeuvres beforehand, so many that the woman is barely hungry for dinner. I asked what time I should come over, and we laughed.

And this year he bought one of those things, a chocolate machine. I asked her if she was talking about those chocolate fountains I keep hearing about. She said that yes, it was a chocolate fountain. I told her that I had never been to a party with one of those, but frankly they seemed a bit messy. She nodded and agreed with me, adding that while she likes chocolate, a fountain of it just seemed like too much.

He asked me to make mincemeat pie, but I want to bring pumpkin, she continued. I think mincemeat is too rich, and I just adore a good spicy pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Real whipped cream, I asked? Oh yes, of course, she smiled.

We continued talking, bouncing from subject to subject. Marzipan to Medicare. Spritz cookies to sprawling condos. She said that she had a husband, being clear to say had, and I noticed that she wore no rings on her delicate hands. She commented that she didn’t have children, then said that she would have… and her voice trailed off too softly for me to hear the rest.

She told me she was going to get a makeover at Nordstrom’s. They never do my hair right at the place I’ve been going to, she said, as she gently touched her hair. Most of their clients are old people. She paused, then said, like me, but I don’t want my hair to look that way.

I smiled at her, and she asked me, is your hair naturally curly? I nodded yes. She said that it was just lovely and that I was very lucky. I smiled again and could feel my cheeks warming. Thank you, you’re very sweet to say that, I told her.

I looked down at my watch and realized that we had been talking for over half an hour. The table next to us turned over twice in the time we had been sitting there, with people rushing to eat and get back to their holiday shopping. As I started to gather my things to continue with my own shopping, the woman dug around in her purse looking for a coupon she had mentioned earlier. Did you see it in today’s paper, she asked? It was for another 25% off at Marshall Field’s. Oh, I must have left it at home. Too bad.

She thanked me again for letting her join me at my table, and I said it was truly my pleasure. I had such a lovely time talking with you, I said, and she agreed. As I stepped away from the table, I put my hand on her shoulder and said, Merry Christmas, and I still think you should just bring that pumpkin pie anyway.

20 Responses to “Food Court”

  1. Jessica Says:

    Beautiful writing, Jen.

  2. shari Says:

    Oh Jen, if I didn’t already think you were the coolest person I know, I would now. Not so much that you would have such a story to tell, or even that you could tell it so well; but rather, that you find it significant enough to be told. I love that about you.
    She should totally take the pumpkin.

  3. romy Says:

    that was fabulous. thank you for letting us see this woman so clearly. what a perfect christmas moment.
    and, with all due respect to greg aplenty (because i know he loves mincemeat), i hope she DOES take the pumpkin.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Dear Jenny,
    This is why I am honored to be your friend. You inspiringly and sincerely share your table with strangers. Your More Love Than Last Year resolution is off to a great start. Keep spreading the joy. And when you get a minute, can you please tell me what in the hell a chocolate fountain is?

  5. McMonkey Says:

    I had a similar story…only I was alone, and eating taco bell. And not at the mall. And no one sat down. But, very similar.

  6. jenny Says:

    J: Thanks, Jess!
    S: And if I didn’t already think you were the sweetest person west of the Mississippi, I would now!
    R: Wait – geese eating mincemeat? Isn’t that like cannibalism? Sick.
    V: Viv! Well, you were the one who inspired my More Love Than Last Year mantra, so we’re even! And now I’m off to buy you a chocolate fountain for xmas…
    McM: Yeah, it’s mostly just teen boys in Taco Bell, and they never want to talk about getting makeovers at Nordstrom’s. Stupid teen boys.

  7. allison Says:

    I normally a Grumpy VonLoneTable, but I am always pleasantly surprised when I open myself up to the experience of talking with someone new.
    Friendliness seems to be contagious.

  8. Jen Says:

    Great post. And I agree with you about the pumpkin. Mincemeat sucks.

  9. The Scarlett Says:

    What the heck is mincemeat?
    I love that she was getting a Nordstrom makeover. That’s so cute. Nicely told.

  10. Bobby Says:

    That bit of time in her life and yours was filled with friendship – friendship experienced by two nice people who happened upon each other willy nilly. It’s great that that happens.
    (. . . it is quite obviously a far better holiday shopping story than folks getting trampled while charging into a Best Buy in Whereeveversville . . .)

  11. teahouseblossom Says:

    Pumpkin pie is my favorite. And better with whipped cream.
    I’m sure you brought some sunshine into her day!

  12. number4of5 Says:

    Your posts are often so funny that I found myself reading along waiting for the punch-line. Instead, I got a really beautiful story.
    I think it says a lot about you that you can do both very well.

  13. jenny Says:

    Thanks so much, everyone!
    Aside from making me smile, your comments have made me wonder as to the actual contents of a mincemeat pie, so I started doing some research.
    Dude. There’s really meat in mincemeat pie! I thought that was just the name! Meat and chopped up fruit. How ’bout I just bring some headcheese for xmas, too? Mmm… gelatinous.

  14. nina Says:

    I was with you until the pie line at the end. She’s gonna get clobbered! You should have ended with — and here’s my phone number in case things get nasty.
    No seriously, a beautiful story. Perfect especially for this time of the year. I hate that people don’t think it’s right to pause in December. Too much of a treadmill (referring back to your previous post on gyms. Say, btw, how is that going?).

  15. Roy Says:

    Enjoyed that!

  16. Fiorello La Guardia Says:

    Jenny, just in case you don’t already know gave that lady a Christmas present.
    Too often young people don’t really see older people; they look right through them. I’m positive that your honest conversation with her really made her day!
    (Yes, Virginia…there is a Santa.)

  17. jenny Says:

    Fio: Frankly, I think she gave me a pretty special present, too, because it’s so rare to connect like that with a stranger. I do believe in Santa, I really do!
    [runs down street shouting, “Merry Christmas, everyone! Merry Christmas!”]

  18. sween Says:

    Am I the only one that sees the answer to the dilemma?
    Bring both pies.
    Of course… I like pie.

  19. jill Says:

    There is absolutely nothing better than strangers with stories. Some people blog. Some people share tables and break bread. Some people do both. You really are a gem, Jenny and this was beautifully done. Also, I second what Vivian said. (About the friendship, I mean. I know about the fountain.)

  20. brando Says:

    I remember the first time an old woman asked ME if my hair was naturally curly and suddenly, for the first time, feeling embarrassed about walking around naked.
    Hi, my name is Brandon and I respond to good writing with inappropriate humor.
    /Hi, Brandon