‘The incident’ still makes me smile

A picture from the photo board.

Somewhere out there is a woman who has no idea how much I love her.

Her memory of “the incident” is surely far different from mine, and I highly doubt she ever recalls “the incident” with affection.

If, by chance, she ever does think of or tell the story — of “the incident” — it is surely told from the perspective of that time when: “I stuck my foot in my mouth.”

Right in the middle of Target.

Of that morning when she embarrassed herself while printing photos at the store.

And, oh, how I adore her for it.

It all happened back in the olden days of 2010 — an era when only the smartest of the smart had smartphones. The rest of us relied on … I don’t know … dumb phones? And carried with us point-and-shoot cameras in our purses since our less-than-intelligent flip phones took less-than-stellar photos.

Thus, some of us relied greatly on the Target do-it-yourself photo machines.

Actually, many of us, if the line on this particular day was any indication.

I was on a mission that morning at Target. And it was bittersweet.

Far, far more bitter than sweet.

In my hands I held an envelope containing several square photographs, some faded to a brownish-orange, of a daddy and his young daughter, often in pigtails.

Also in the envelope — the photo card from my point-and-shoot.

That meant I needed the one, the only — clearly coveted — photo machine that both scanned photos and also accepted memory cards.

So, I stood in the long line, under the bright artificial lights, not sure if at any moment I might cry.

This was the store where I’d shopped with my parents since I was that little girl in pigtails. A SuperTarget now; back then a far more modest discount superstore.

It was, in fact, the original Target location.

I remembered as a youngster playing on the metal turnstile gate that separated areas of the store, way back when.

Now I was amid strangers, awaiting my chance to complete this mission, so that the day could continue with other tasks. Like picking up my mom and heading to the florist, meeting with the priest at my childhood church, heading to the Roseville cemetery to pick out a plot.

It seemed all so surreal, somehow, standing in that growing line. But not as surreal as what happened next.

One by one, fellow line occupants began to give up. One by one they simply walked away. One step at a time I moved forward, until I was the very next one in line.

Huh.

It was quite weird, but I wasn’t complaining.

The woman at the photo machine, about my age, turned toward me with a somewhat apologetic smile. The fact that everyone had disappeared behind her didn’t seem to be lost on her at all.

“I’m almost done,” she said.

“No worries,” I replied. “Take your time. It’s your turn.”

Relief filled her eyes.

“Oh, okay, thank you,” she said. “I’ve been coming here every day, and every day there is a huge line. Everyone seems to be working on these big projects.”

I smiled.

She turned back to the machine. Then back to me.

“Oh, maybe you’re working on a project…” she said, as though worried I’d taken offense.

“Oh,” I paused. “Well, I’m putting together a photo board. … My dad died yesterday.”

Her eyes became wide. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said. “I just lost mine a few weeks ago.”

My heart sank with understanding.

“I’m very sorry. It’s so hard,” I replied.

She nodded. Turned back to the machine. Turned back to me.

Her expression was a bit confused, but her voice was warm. “A photo board, huh? It’s so hard to know how to memorialize them.”

Pretty sure my face took on the puzzled look. Yet, human nature urged me to agree with her.

Perhaps she was right, I considered. How do you memorialize all those years of being blessed with such a kind and loving dad who was your greatest supporter, your protector, your teacher, your bestest of friends, your one and only daddy. … How do you express the overwhelming multitude of emotions, the deep grief at the devastating loss in any sort of simple way.

“It’s true,” I said.

The serendipity of the moment hit me. Is this why everyone retreated from the line … so that this young woman and I could bond over the loss of our dads?

She turned back to the machine. Back to me.

“You know what I did?” she said, with sudden enthusiasm.

“What?”

“I went to Michael’s,” she said of the craft store.

I nodded.

“I had them frame her picture in a shadow box,” she said, explaining how also inside the box was “her collar.”

My eyes got big.

“Uh, how nice,” I said. “That’s really nice.”

I meant it with all my heart.

She smiled and continued with her photo project.

Abruptly she turned back toward me, catching me off guard.

“How long did you have yours?” she inquired.

“Uh…”

What do I say? What should I say? I had him for 30-some years? Or, 75? He lived to be 75?

“Uh…”

What if she asks more questions? I wasn’t sure I had it in me to engage in a charade, polite as doing so might be.

“Actually,” I said hesitantly. “My dad died. Not my dog.”

Her eyes, as they say, became saucers. Her face went pale. I thought she might cry.

Instantly, I regretted my words. For goodness sake, could I not have just played along?

“I’m so sorry,” she apologized profusely. “I’m so sorry … I …”

“It’s okay,” I assured her. “It’s okay. It’s my fault,” I insisted, trying desperately to comfort her. “I’m sure I didn’t enunciate.”

The woman proceeded to explain how she had already “put my foot in my mouth” recently. And here she was doing it all over again.

In the middle of Target.

o

If she only knew, I thought in the hours, days and years that followed … if only she knew how wonderful that foot in her mouth ended up being.

I was gifted with a story to share — albeit at this poor, sweet, unfortunately humiliated woman’s expense; something to break the ice with family and friends gathered at the funeral home for my daddy’s wake.

I had a story to tell my heartbroken mom, to lighten the mood if only for a moment.

For a few fleeting moments of time, the woman had taken away my pain; sweetened the sadness with the humor of a very human occurrence.

She had misunderstood and had said something dumb.

Like we all do.

Oh, how I wish, however, I could have removed her embarrassment.

The woman finished with her photos, packed up and flew out of the store, without a glance back at me.

I think about her from time to time. The incident still makes me smile.

If only I could find her and tell her this. Tell her, “it’s okay” and “thank you.” Tell her I love her for what she did without her even knowing she did it.

Perhaps we were meant to bond, right there in Target.

Rather serendipitous, indeed.

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