Thursday, September 5, 2013

At Least We Can Polka

This random encounter happened a few years ago, and has been quietly magical for me ever since.

I was chatting with the cashier at the grocery store. It was one of those congenial moments, and I lingered, putting away my change. The next customer was setting her stuff on the counter, and she got right into the friendly vibe.

"Oh, gotta get some extra chocolate," she said, piling on candy bars from the rack.

"Hey, I'm a woman," said the clerk, "you don't have to explain chocolate to me."

The customer put a large bag of oranges next to the chocolate.

"My house burned to the ground two nights ago," she said calmly.

The clerk and I turned to really look at her.

"Gosh, I'm sorry to hear that," I said, feeling that extra intensity that comes over you.

"Yeah," said the clerk.

The woman looked at us and smoothed her red coat.

"Well, I got out with my family---

and my accordion. We're in a motel, but at least we can polka!"

"That's a good thing," I said. "Will you all be OK, then?"

"Oh, yes. In a way, it was a blessing in disguise."

I thought for a moment, then said, "You'll never have to clean out that attic."

She looked at me with something close to delight dawning in her eyes. The attic hadn't occurred to her yet. "Yeah!" she said. "Yeah!"

Random intersections with strangers give extra depth to life. Right now, I can still see the woman in her red coat, and I can see her family in the motel, with their oranges and chocolate and their polka music. I'll probably never bump into that woman again, but I'll remember that conversation for a long time.

Readers often ask me where my inspiration comes from. Well, sometimes it comes from moments like this.

What inspires you?

Tell me! To post your ideas / comments, all of which I read and try to respond to, click below where it says, 'No Comments,' or '2 Comments,' or whatever.
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[photo of accordion courtesy of ArentInfrogmation via Wikimedia Commons]


  1. Hi Elizabeth, This is a really moving post. Puts things in perspective for sure. But to answer your question, I get most of my ideas from reading advice columns. I love advice columns, and occasionally will be transfixed by one person's story. I want to know how it turned out, and since I never will, I have to write the ending myself. This is especially true with women who've compromised themselves their entire lives to accommodate other people, and then they wake up and consider changing.

    1. Lynne, how fun! When I was a kid we got the morning paper and one of my guilty pleasures was reading those columns, about all the troubles adults created for themselves. I remember trying hard to understand how a liquid could 'destroy' whole families (alcohol)...


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