“I would like to go shopping with you today.” he declared as I peeked around the door to his room.
“OK, what are we shopping for?”
“Oh, I suppose some food. My wife only buys vegetables, I want to see what is available.”
We sat for a while waiting for his wife to bring the car and make her list. “I will drop you two at the grocery store. Place a basket on his lap in the wheelchair. Whatever he wants is fine. Don’t be alarmed, sometimes his choices are a bit strange. I’m going to the bank first and will find you at the store.” she said as we slowly descended the steps to the waiting car.
When I had him settled in his chair outside the store, he queried her about a particular sausage he was wanting. I was sure this chain grocery didn’t carry such a delicacy but promised to look for it. As I pushed him down the aisle toward the deli, he suddenly put a hand out. “Too fast! You are going too fast.”
“It’s just frozen chicken formed into dinosaur-shaped patties. This isn’t even real food!”
“I would like to look at it! Stop!” he demanded. We surveyed the brightly colored packages for a few moments then moved on to the cooler offering prepared salads and imitation crab sandwiches. He pointed to a container. The contents were totally unknown as the price sticker covered the ingredients. “I don’t even know what that is,” I offered.
“It doesn’t matter, it looks interesting,” he countered as he tossed it into the basket on his lap. In went some pickled herring, a strange pink mousse dessert offering, and a processed smoked salmon spread. We slowly sauntered up and down the deli counter while I read off the names of everything offered. People were very kind; they smiled and stepped back so we could be close enough for him to read all the labels. I retrieved a number once he had decided on some liverwurst. I ordered a half pound, sliced sandwich-thick, while he chatted with a girl waiting her turn.
“I’m shopping for my dad and I don’t eat ham. What kind of ham would you recommend? she asked.
“Ham? I don’t know. I just raise the hogs and they make the ham. There are so many names for the ham here.”
“Oh! You’re a farmer then! How cool! My mom died back in May so I’m helping my dad out. He loves ham.”
“I’m dying. It’s not so bad. I really like sitting here looking at the food and watching the people.”
She gasped quietly, feeling she had perhaps said something wrong. He shone his charming smile on her and I caught a glimpse of her relief. We wandered the isles collecting wondrous treats including two different mustards and horribly processed dried cranberries for his oatmeal. When we met his wife at the check-out his basket was brimming with forbidden food.
I placed his items on the belt and wheeled him toward the car. He stiffened and became angry. “I’m not done! I need to pay for my food!”
I knew he had no money with him. I also knew we were reaching the edge of his effort. As I lined his chair up next to the open car door, I tried to calm him. “I had so much fun being out with you and I promise we will go again.”
“OK, next time I want to shop at your store, no family, I want to buy gifts and food with my money. My birthday is Wednesday, does that work?”
I thought later on the drive to work; if I can’t fulfill his wish, what can I do that would give him joy? Happy Birthday, Selamat Hari Natal, Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag und alles Gute!