I saw it at the supermarket

Recently I wrote about a pleasant visit I had with a lady at a fast-food restaurant.  Just a few days later, I witnessed another encounter I want to share with you.  I wasn’t involved in this one.  In fact, to be totally honest, I was an eavesdropper.  But it made quite an impression on me, and I had to tell someone about it.  It might as well be you, right?

As I was winding my way through the aisles of a supermarket, I noticed an elderly man. I gave him a second look because I thought I knew him.  It turned out I did not.  We went our separate ways, and a few minutes later I was turning a corner and overheard a conversation.

I soon realized it was the man talking to three girls. I think they were teenagers. They could have been sisters, or friends, or classmates.  They were casually dressed, and one was even sitting in the shopping cart, as kids do sometimes.  I’m not sure how the conversation started, I was a little late for that.  The man was doing most of the talking, and the girls were listening, really listening. They were even laughing occasionally.

I had to stop and listen for a bit, because this was so unusual.  Do young people really take a break from their supermarket “run” to chat with a total stranger? Especially these days, when so many faces are tilted downward, noses buried in their phones.

Maybe he accidentally bumped into their shopping cart.  Or he might have asked for help finding something.  No matter what initiated the conversation, it was lively.  The girls had stopped what they were doing to listen to the man.

He told them he was 87.  He said he wasn’t used to grocery shopping.  His wife had always taken care of such details, but now she was unable to do so. “We’ve been married for 64 years,” he said proudly.  His life used to be quite busy, he said. His days were once filled with work and travel, but now he mostly cleans house and does the cooking. The girls looked him in the eye, asked some questions, and made a few comments.  It was not a one-sided conversation. The young girls were not looking past him, or through him. They were looking right at him.

The man was quite a talker.  He was animated and entertaining.  Maybe I’m assuming too much, but I got the impression he doesn’t get to engage in many conversations these days.  He seemed to relish the opportunity to socialize, to give and take. Although he didn’t say it, I suspect he is like many of his generation.  “Till death do us part.”  It is possible his wife is unable to communicate, and he lives most of his life in silence. Sadly, there often comes a time when we are no longer able to share our stories, memories and laughs.

By the end of this brief chat, everyone involved was smiling, especially the older man.  If only for a few minutes, the toll of 87 years had been lessened. There was a little extra spring in his step. These young people wanted to hear his story.

Again, I’m basing this on a relatively brief, overheard conversation.  But that’s the way it seemed to me.

Why is this story worthy of your time?  It certainly is not news, and much of what I’ve written is pure speculation on my part.  I suppose I could have snapped a candid photo of this encounter. It was in a very public place.  I just didn’t want to intrude by being “that guy” who distracts folks in the middle of something special.  Besides, in a world where we take pictures of everything, some events should just be allowed to happen.

To me, it was a remarkable moment.  How many of us would try to avoid eye contact with an elderly man, and do whatever is possible to rush forward and act like we didn’t hear his attempt to ask a question, or start a conversation?  Young people, in particular, are stereotyped as being self-centered and disconnected.  What I saw gave me a flicker of hope.  It is cause for celebration. Someone still listens, if even for five minutes.  Someone still cares.

Was this story worth sharing?  I think so. And if you read this “non-news” story all the way to the end, you’re pretty special yourself.  Thank you for reading. I had to tell somebody about it.

About David Carroll

David Carroll is a longtime Chattanooga radio and TV broadcaster, and has anchored the evening news on WRCB-TV since 1987. He is the author of "Chattanooga Radio & Television" published by Arcadia.

10 thoughts on “I saw it at the supermarket

  1. Patti Sanders

    I recently lost my Dad, and he too was 87, like the man in your story. Dad never let a grocery store trip go by that he didn’t thank the guy in the Produce Department for the great bananas. Or say hello to the lady in the Deli who was slicing up fresh turkey breast. Or give a dollar to the young man who helped carry out the groceries to his car. Those in their golden years have so many stories to tell, but they are often isolated and lonesome. Those three young ladies may not realize it until they are much older, but their laughter, along with the sparkle in their eyes that said “You Are Special”, may have really made that gentleman’s day.

  2. Bobbie Smith

    Well, I guess it wasn’t worth reading. My comment just vanished before my very eyes. And it was very funny and good, (thought so anyway) Bottom line is: As the “Church lady” on SNL would say– “Now, that was SPECIAL”

  3. Ruby Womack

    As a 78 yo great-grandmother, may I express my appreciation for the many wonderful people (both young and older) who are so kind to people like myself. I use a motorized cart in the store and have come across some amazingly nice citizens, always helpful in so many ways! Thanks for the post!

  4. Lori

    It’s amazing what a simple ‘hello’ and a smile can do for somebody’s day! This world needs a lmore kindness!

  5. Myra J. rosser

    Like the other lady-my computer also went to neverland as I was typing lol! Beautiful story and one that all of us can identify with-we need to take time out of our day to encounter with others-you never know who might need an uplift today! Love thy neighbor as thyself!


    I’m pleased those girls cared enough to talk and laugh with the gentleman plus it shows good parenting too.

  7. Regina

    Such a beautiful story! My Dad is 87 years old and having to go to the store these days, because my Mother is no longer able to do so. He also has fascinating stories! I hope when he encounters others, they show the respect these young people did! Great story David; thank you for sharing!

  8. Mark Rumsey

    David – thank you for this wonderful story, which touches me in multiple ways. So insightful, and inspiring. God bless those young ladies for taking time to listen and engage – and you for taking time to observe, reflect on, and share the encounter!

  9. Watson Ballard


    Thank you for sharing this wonderful story! I often think, “One day, that’s going to be me walking alone in the store, or sitting alone on the bench in the mall.” It’s overwhelming to think that way, but imagine how much more overwhelming it may be when it actually happens! And it’ll be here before we know it. After all, it seems like only yesterday we were teenagers.

    Thanks again for the cool story. You’re the best!


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