I was working the register closest the front door when a quick blast of air lifted the hairs that rest along the top of my back and blew them around my round face before they settled upon my collarbone. On windy cold days this “buzzer” of sorts works better than the little bing-bong sound, (that alerts us that someone opened the door) at getting my attention as the bustle of shopping carts, price guns and the slightly louder than usual holiday music tend to muzzle the subtle door alert. I turned to greet whoever was walking through the door and there she was. Small frame, handsomely dressed, short hair and “new boobs”….the last two while not produced by her own tiny body, suiting her quite smartly.
I greeted she and her son as I do with everyone that walks through the front door but for her there is just a little more sincerity behind the, “Hello”. Finished ringing the customer I was helping, tied up a couple of things I had dropped to help him and made my way to the French department where she was standing with her cart. On my walk over I was thinking that it had been some time since I had seen her but then remembered, while I did not have much time to talk with her she was at my end of the year Champagne event…the event where for the first time I was not at all nervous in front of the group….she was there. Made perfect sense to me yesterday as I approached her shopping cart and warm grin, of course she had been there that night. Our connection began over a bottle of Azo Chablis and as honest and courageous a conversation as I had ever had. Her spirit and strength a constant reminder for me to quit my bitching and marinate in how lucky I truly am, her telling me that she had read my piece about her…with tears of pride in her eyes as she thanked me….Jesus, she was thanking me, making me feel as close to a stranger as I ever have. My Lady of Chablis, the fighter of Cancer….twice, my fairy godmother was back.
A quick second greeting, neither of us seemingly good gushers, and “So, what can I help you with?” I asked. “Okay this is what I need” she said while hovering over a cut open box of one of her always purchased wines. “My mother was in the hospital, she had an infection in her blood” I listened as she shared the story, admittedly keeping an ear out for the phone that was ringing and giving the store a quick scan between nods, “a week later she passed away” her words making the phone go silent and making my focus tighten in on her and her alone.
“My mother loved this wine” she said while pointing to the box of Lapierre Raisins Gaulois, Beaujolais that is not labeled as such because some of the fruit is grown just outside the official Beaujolais AOC. “We are having her service tomorrow and she loved Beaujolais. My sister found a Louis Jadot for around $9.99 a bottle but this is so much better. Is there any sort of discount if I buy a whole case or more?” she asked. Felt several pangs in my chest and tummy, one because she had never asked that before, two because she seemed mildly uncomfortable doing so and three, we don’t do case discounts. “We don’t offer volume discounts” I told her, “We give the absolute best price we can on each bottle so we just can’t offer anything above that for case purchases” I assured her. I could tell she was just trying to justify buying this wine while her sister could get cases of Jadot for cheaper, ‘It doesn’t matter, I want this one, it’s so much better” she responded, “I need 22 bottles” I scanned the cut case and the few bottles on the rack and told her that I didn’t think I had that many. “How many do you have?” she asked, I bent to get a actual count, “18, 19, 20, 21, 22…” I had exactly 22 bottles. “I’ll take them and can you remove those price tags while we finish shopping?” she asked with a smile that assured me she was not only fine with the no discount thing, that she was happy to get the last remaining bottles.
I pulled the wines, scraped the tags off and went back to the floor to see if she needed any help and to share a little story with her. “You know it’s kind of interesting that you would pick that wine. Marcel Lapierre, the winemaker and owner of that wine you love….well sadly he passed away a couple months ago” have no idea why I told her, why I thought that would be an appropriate little factoid she would be at all interested in the day before hosting 160 people to say goodbye to her mother. It was something that should have been saved for her next visit and while I stood there wishing I could stuff the stoopid back in my mouth she said, “When my mom was really out of it, fading in and out, we asked her, “what do you want mom?” and she said, “Beaujolais” As she went on to tell me that other family members began conspiring to get her some, just a little to give her a taste of her beloved wine, the thumping of my own heart was drowning out her words, the shopping carts, price guns …the louder than normal holiday music.
I helped them pick wines for Christmas Eve dinner, did that on autopilot really as I wanted to get my chunky ass to the register before they finished shopping. Once they were done needing any assistance I hightailed it to the front counter where their de-priced boxes of Beaujolais were waiting. “Here’s what I want you to do” I told the staff. “I want you to ring up the Beaujolais separate and I want you to ring it under my employee discount” and this is where being the general manager has its advantages, they may have found the request unusual they were not going to question me on it. I had just finished making my wishes clear when she made her way to the counter, “I’d like ring these up separately” she told us while lifting her “for home” bottles from the cart and sliding them across the counter. “Perfect” I responded and went on to tell her that I was in fact going to give her a discount on the Beaujolais for…well, for her mother. She thanked me but the little bit of weight I could almost feel being lifted from her small but remarkably strong shoulders was really all the thanks I needed.
Once I was sure they were gone I again approached the staff with another odd request, “Okay now reverse that sale, ring it at full price and use this to pay for the difference” I said while handing over my credit card. It was not the store’s choice to give that discount, it was mine and it wasn’t out of fear that I felt compelled to toss my money in the register….truth is had Randy or Dale heard the story of an older woman, literally on her deathbed, in and out of clarity knowing that the one thing she did want was a glass of her favorite wine, well I’m sure they would have done the same. No it was that I so wanted to be a part of a day that celebrated the life of such a woman. A woman that raised another who’s strength, honesty and pride inspire me, touch me each and every time I’m near her and honestly….I wanted to give her that Beaujolais she asked for….
Got back into the swing of things at the shop, the regular, somewhat manic pace, the tissue wrapping, the picking of gifts and restocking that is the holiday season. Was in the middle of two projects when I heard my name being called at the front, “Sam you have a delivery” looked up and saw another tiny woman but this one was holding the sweetest bunch of flowers and a clipboard awaiting my signature. Opened the card to find a hilarious note from a dear friend, something about monkey balls that made me laugh out loud and touched that place in my heart that I devote to connections. She sent them just to add brightness to my day, make me laugh and thank me. Thanking me for what I’m not sure but having such a friend and feeling it so powerfully resting upon my recently exposed heart, well lucky doesn’t begin to explain it. Not sure what it is about The Lady Chablis’ visits but something wonderful and ultimately introspective, in a good way, always happens when I’ve been near her….
Finished my day at work feeling light and profoundly happy, lucky as hell to work in a place that begins these little life lines, the ones that cause me to step just enough out of my comfort level to touch and be touched by such multi-textured and affirming people. Really is such a gift. Grabbed my little bunch of flowers hoping it would rest in my cup holder and not spill all over during my way home in the rain. Popped the little silver cup of fragrant white flowers into the console and it fit like it was designed for just such a use. Big grin and a shake of my head and I pulled out onto Redondo Ave to begin my trek home.
Got in the left hand turn lane and waited my turn with my wipers desperately flailing, making that “vrom-vrom-vrom” sound to accompany the “click-click-click” of my blinker and that was when I saw him. An asshole in the right lane trying to nudge into the left hand turn lane….holding up a long line of people that were just trying to go straight. This pisses me off like no other. Okay, make a mistake but do not, I repeat, do not make everyone else pay for it….go up and turn around, asshole. He was starting to bum my mood so I, quite angrily mind you, waved him over and let him get in front of me so that everyone else behind him could move along. I was kind of steaming and muttering all sorts of profanity, (me, can you believe that?) when I saw that the light was turning yellow, “Oh thank you Captain Me First, now I have to wait for the next light” I snarled just as the guy pulled up to make his left on the yellow….he wasn’t the only selfish ass trying to make that light. A van coming the opposite direction gunned his engine trying to speed through light….massive accident that spun both cars across the slippery intersection and left me sitting at the now red light, debris of asshole smoking and crunched in front of me, my hands shaking a bit as I thought, “That would have been me. I would have been next had I not let that dick slip in in front of me”….;lucky does not begin to describe it.
Got home and rattled off the events of the day and while I am supremely lucky to have the husband I do, well he is not so much with the listening. I was this bubbling mixture of excitement, relief……wonder and the poor bastard that married me was looking at me with the face of a six year old in church, like “Gawd, how much longer?” Settled down and into making dinner, a homemade Mac & Cheese studded with bits of Italian sweet sausage and a simple salad. I knew what I wanted to drink with it, what would pair deliciously and emotionally with the day I had just had…..
“I want Beaujolais”
I slowly sipped away at glass after glass of Piron Brouilly, letting the playful, simple fruit fill my mouth while I let the spirit of kindness, friendship and love fill my soul. I have a fairly godmother, I’m sure of it now, her name is Cheryl but for me, she will always be The Lady of Chablis.