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They sell cookbooks at the bookstore?

Yesterday I met Dorothy.  I needed a change of venue so I decided to get out of the office, skip the coffee shop scene, and go to the local mall’s food court to catch up on some paperwork.  The mall in my town has a gigantic fireplace in the middle of the food court, so I was instantly drawn to the glow and the heat as I left my car in the falling snow outside.  A chair as big as Papa Bear’s welcomed me to warm my bones while I settled into my reading. 

After a bit, a lovely, tender lady in a very fashionable hat, rolled a Sears shopping cart carrying only her purse over to the hearth and sat down right in front of me.  What a sophisticated hat on this petite, sparkling-eyed gem!  It wasn’t 30 seconds before she started,  “This is my home away from home.  I live 9/10ths miles from where I work at the high school in the lunch room and I really think the school should have underground parking because there is a lot of snow to clean off when I get out of work. I have the best job and make more money than ever in my life – 14 dollars minus a nickel per hour and I work 4 and ¼ hours except on Wednesdays when I work 4 and ¾ hours.” 

Her name is Dorothy.  I’m guessing at not even 5’ tall and 85 years old, the 40+ inches of snow so far this year is probably more of an inconvenience than a deterrent for sweet, feisty Dorothy.

For the ease of reading this, I added a few periods to avoid the world’s longest run-on sentence.  Dorothy doesn’t speak with punctuation.  When I asked about her hat, her response was something like,   

“Before the war (WWII) I used to be a Dayton’s girl and worked downtown, so I love hats.  Then my husband was in the marines and now I am widowed and I have 6 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren.  I like to come here because they have some underground parking.  At the bookstore I was watching a book with pictures of all the cities in the country for when it would go on sale.  It went on sale, then on sale again so I could buy it.  I’m watching another picture book now and have to wait until that goes on sale a couple more times so I can maybe get that one someday.  The fire is nice here.  I come here a lot.  I like to spend time at the bookstore.”

We had further discussion about how bookstores were fascinating and a place we’ve both spent lots of curious hours.  I confessed that it’s also the place that I uncovered one of my most ridiculous moments of ignorance (of the many that I’ve uncovered).  I told Dorothy that many years ago, I dated a gourmet cook.  Early in our relationship, he would call me around 4:30 in the afternoon and ask what I was making for dinner.  My reply, “Dinner? It’s 4:30 in the afternoon!  Why would I think about dinner now? I’m still working.  I’ll think about making dinner when it’s time to make dinner...it’ll likely be something from a can, jar, box... or frozen.”  Unlike so many people who consider food an “experience”, to me food is fuel.  My experience of a meal comes mostly from the people I'm with and sometimes the aesthetics.  He would host dinner parties and I would help him with kitchen prep wondering why anyone would be intrigued with the process of all that.  Making it look pretty was appealing to me; the cooking....not so much.  He eventually got to the point of answering the phone when I'd call with "Hey! Can, jar, box or frozen!  How are you today?"  Eventually he informed me that he didn't care for how easily that comment flowed across my lips.  Which brings me to the embarrassing, yet meaningful point to this story.

One day this man informed me that he needed to go to the bookstore to get a cookbook.  I was confused.  So confused that I must have looked at him like puppies do when they cock their heads and ears perk up when they hear the word “treat” or “ride”.  Did I hear him correctly?  “You want to go to the bookstore to get a cookbook?!  They sell cookbooks at a bookstore?”  He was horrified at my ignorance.  He knew how I loved to read and learn and we’ve even spent a fair amount of time there together.  “Where do you think you would buy a cookbook?” he said.  Who knows?  In my entire life, it has never occurred to me to buy a cookbook, except now that I think about it, I got one for a microwave a hundred years ago so I could didn’t make my broccoli mushy in a pot anymore.  Aren’t cookbooks kind of like pens with logos...they just show up?  Maybe from bridal showers or from aunts or church fundraisers...right?

Off we went to the bookstore and what did I see for the first time?  Barnes & Noble had TWO full isles of cookbooks!  Who knew?  Plus another full rack of diet books!  Wow.  Hmmm.  And I went to college.  Genius.

That got me thinking about what else I am blinded to when it’s simply not on my radar screen.  I remember when I was house hunting, I noticed virtually every real estate sign in a front yard.  For the years I wasn’t looking for a house, I hardly ever saw one.  I presume all the For Sale signs didn’t magically disappear, they simply were no longer in my conscious awareness.  They had no need to be “drawn” from the background to the foreground for me anymore.   

It’s common to get in sort of a hypnotic state and miss much of our surroundings.  Did you ever drive home from work and remember getting in the car when you started, then parking at home, only to wonder how "autopilot" somehow mysteriously got you from Point A to Point B with no recall of the trip?  If it was a new route or you were lost, how different would your awareness become?

At some level, all of us go through life like this.  Backgrounds of beauty are simply white noise unless we pay attention.  Signs or signals of love, invitations, sunsets, appreciation, connectedness are always available.  What about the shifting to your "online" life....where so much learning is being gleaned from something with a screen?  Is that going to supersede gardening, or hiking or white water rafting or holding hands?  Would you call yourself diverted, focused, oblivious, engaged?

Or would your eyes sparkle when relating to relationships, like Dorothy? 

As I was winding up my visit with her, my daughter who is now away at college, called and I asked her if she remembered sweet Dorothy from when she was in high school.  “The lunch lady!  She’s the sweetest, kindest lady with a face I’ll never forget and has the coolest jewelry.”  Dorothy smiled.  Of course she has the coolest jewelry...she reminded me she was a "Dayton’s girl" before “The War”.

Be the inspiration YOU are!