She wore a lavender sweat suit which was so tight I could read the dates of the coins in her pocket.
Actually, calling her outfit a “sweat suit” would be a misnomer. She did not look like a woman who exercised.
From the confines of our RV, I watched as she exited the store and blocked traffic to light a cigarette before pushing her shopping cart toward her car.
Her overly coiffed hair and garish outfit, a bit loud for a small Idaho town, caught my attention. I was distracted by something or someone else when her yelling recaptured my interest. Her decibels were directed at a skinny little boy, about seven or eight, who now stood in front of her. Through my open window I heard her say, “I told you to stay with me. Where have you been?”
I could not hear what the child said in response but I could see him hold up a small bag of popcorn as if for an explanation and offer some to his mother. She knocked the bag out of his hand and grabbed him by the upper arm and began to shake and scold him.
When she let go of him he rubbed his bicep and started to cry.
She ignored his tears and rummaged through her purse. She began patting her pockets before looking in her purse once again; the child didn’t move.
She yelled, “See what you have done, you’ve made me lose my keys.” The little boy stood frozen.
I don’t believe that any person sets out to be a bad parent. I’m sure as the nurse hands the mother and father their infant, there is both hope and love. No parent then says, “I’m going to mess this kid up”. Unfortunately, due to stress, emotional instability, or unforeseen hardships, some parents don’t have the wherewithal to raise an undamaged child.
The unfairness of it is almost too much to bear.
Perhaps this was an isolated instance. Perhaps that woman in purple was a kind and loving mother. But my guess was that the little boy would spend many years enduring the emotional ebb and flow of a caregiver who was probably raising her child as she herself was raised. The cycle continues.
As the angry mother simultaneously searched for her keys and scolded her child, an older couple approached.
They looked to be in their late sixties or seventies and, like my wife and me, seemed to be tourists. I had seen them earlier get out of a new looking RV.
I got the sense they were going to intercede and I feared for them. I knew they wouldn’t stand a chance (verbal or even physically) against that lady in lavender. I got out of my truck and wandered in their direction. I was within about ten feet when I heard them say, “Are these your car keys?”
The mother looked up annoyed, and snatched the keys out of the lady’s hand. I heard no “thanks.” The older man said, “We found them just outside the front door.” (That’s where the lady stopped to light her cigarette.)
The older couple walked away toward their camper which was parked near to mine. I followed them at a discreet distance. They were holding hands. As they passed by my truck the husband let go of his wife’s hand and patted her bottom. She brushed his hand away gave him a little shove and they both began laughing.
The stark contrast of the two couples — mother and child and elderly husband and wife was dramatic. One pair made me sad the other gave me hope. Sad to see a scared and unhappy kid but delighted that when I’m that age I’ll still want to pat my wife’s butt.
Life is unquestionably unfair — for some the go-to emotion is compassion, for others, anger. I’m beginning to believe that often this is more nature than nurture. I’ve met many who are content with little reason to be and others who seemingly have everything they need save contentment.
When, in my twenties, and I worked in restaurants I would often remind myself that it is worse to be a jerk than to wait on one. I can certainly feel compassion for that lady in purple, but I would also remind her that like their young skin, a child’s sense of worth is easily bruised.
Again, I hope I caught that lady on a bad day. But regardless, countless children have overcome far greater obstacles than an impatient, short tempered and poorly dressed mother to go on and live happy and fruitful lives.
But what I do know (said by Sophocles): “One word frees us from all the weight and pain of life … that word is love.”
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on TV-8-Summit and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.