They may be a friendly old country store, but I'm betting they don't want to see me ever again.
I couldn't pay; I broke some things - at least I didn't break a rocker....
Yesterday was supposed to be a relaxing day. I went out to breakfast at Cracker Barrel with some friends from my Mom's group. Lovely ladies...saved me from the misery of raising children by myself. Uh, I mean...besides Matthew, of course. But you know the old adage about it taking a village? They're my village. Together, we can discuss important child-rearing topics that men hate hearing about such as: Why has my daughter suddenly started biting her toenails? When can you expect a little boy's potty training to advance to the point where he isn't peeing all over the guest bathroom - age 10, 12...20? And at one point do you let your little guy go to the men's restroom all by himself - kindergarten...college?
Toward the end of the meal I rushed out to the car to retrieve the cellphone I forgot there, because, believe me, if Matthew tries to call while I'm out, and I don't answer, I'm likely to get a grilling when I get home - complete with fluorescent lamps suspended inches from my face, making me sweat and promise that from then on, I'll glue my cellphone to my head.
Got it just in time, because Matthew called two minutes later to ask if I was home yet so he could drop off the kids on the way to get his hair cut. No, I wanted to look around at all the neat country store goodies first.
"Hey, Camille," I said to my friend after getting off the phone. "Let me pay for your breakfast. I didn't get you anything for your birthday, and I loved the cards you gave me."
I took the checks up to the counter while she watched my little Danny Sam for me (he had come along; we're really inseparable at the moment, though I think I could bear the separation better than he). I drew my ugly black canvas diaper bag around my shoulder, flipped open the enormous flap, unzipped the top zipper, dug in, pushed things around and unzipped the inner pocket of the dang thing, and then stared blankly at some papers there while my hands continued to grope around desperately for something...
I looked up at the young woman behind the counter.
"Oh, no - my wallet!" I said plaintively. "I don't have my wallet. It's in my baby sling at home. You know, I put my baby in it and wear it...or him. You know?"
I had added this last part because this girl was staring at me with an expression that said I always knew I'd encounter you someday, as if I were her own personal nemesis. She acted as if she did not believe there were such things as baby slings and doubted that I even had a child.
"I'll have to ask my friend to pay for it," I said. "I'll be right back!"
She just stared as I walked away, still not speaking. I hurried up to Camille and Geraldine.
"You'll never believe it, Camille," I said excitedly. "But I don't have my wallet. Could you pay for it, and I'll give you cash later for both? Sorry."
Camille smiled and took it back, but then Geraldine took all the checks.
"I'll pay for it," she offered.
"I'm so sorry, Geraldine," I said. "I put my wallet in my sling when I walk in to get the kids from school, so I don't have to carry the whole diaper bag, and I just forgot to put it back."
"Believe me, I understand," she said. "I had to run back in for mine this morning. I was literally out the door."
"I'll pay you back," I said. "Next time I see you..."
"No, never mind," said Geraldine graciously. "It'll be my treat. Happy birthdays, Merry Christmases!" she added, laughing.
She went to pay for three times the breakfast she had anticipated. Camille and I started to walk around the store, looking at all the Christmas merchandise on display. Geraldine joined us a short time later, and we began talking again, but pretty soon my friends realized I had an issue before I even noticed.
"Whoa, Hillary," said Geraldine, putting out a restraining hand. She pointed. "Watch out for that angel there."
I had almost wiped out this angel with the car seat complete with child (Danny Sam in his own personal equipage) that I had hung on my arm. I took a step away from it.
"Maybe we should go," said Camille.
I was fine with that; I had no money for the cute, and highly breakable, things on display.
"Did you want to look around, Geraldine?" I asked.
Geraldine then told us that she was still waiting to pay for the checks, because for some reason they had been canceled after my failed attempt to pay, and the cashier couldn't put them through.
So we moved off through another part of the store, the car seat still slung casually across my arm and Danny Sam trying to sit up to look at all the displays. I blame him, really; he must have shifted his weight just right while I was passing a bulky display of vintage soda to propel the car seat into it. There was a sudden collision which knocked one of the whimsical boxes full force off its comrades, then the crash of colliding bottles and a slow agonizing fizzzzzzzz as the sodas released their carbonation in a pitiful plea for help, or attention.
I gave a short laugh and said, "Oh, no!"
Okay, it was really not the appropriate response, but I've lost the proper ability to be embarrassed anymore. On the other hand, I've mastered the art of apologizing repeatedly with subtle variations, "I'm sorry! So sorry about that...I'm really sorry! Please accept my apology for the destruction of your (fine china, vase, glass, priceless ornament, or, in this case, vintage soda). Really-I'm very, very sorry!"
Within two seconds a female store clerk showed up to assess the damage. My wave of apologies didn't have one ounce of effect on the decidedly sour expression that assailed her face as she watched the syrupy soda bleed beneath the display table. I stopped apologizing to wonder about a more pressing issue of damage control: just which one of my friends could I convince to pay for the havoc I had wreaked on that old country store? Since Geraldine was already paying for my breakfast, should I ask Camille? My company was becoming expensive, but maybe there were still a couple of unbroken bottles in the box they could take home for later...
Thankfully, the manager came up. I started my program of groveling anew, but I didn't need to bother because he promptly said, "Don't worry about it! It's okay. It's happened before!" At which point I paused to try and recollect the last time I may have been there and broken a box of soda.
I tried again to apologize to the poor lemon-faced lady responsible for cleaning up my mess, but it was useless; she wouldn't even acknowledge me. Meanwhile, Geraldine went again to see about paying for the checks, and Camille began to run defense for my every move.
"Don't get too close to that," she said. Then she added a moment later as I was admiring some Christmas decorations, swinging Danny back and forth on my arm, "Here! Step this way a little, Hillary."
When Geraldine had at last been allowed to pay, and we decided to leave, Camille pointed down an aisle. "There, Hillary," she said. "You should have a nice wide path...."
We made it out, and as we opened the heavy doors to freedom, I said, "They may be a friendly old store, but I bet they don't want to see any more of Hillary Tornado!"
Our little party broke up in the parking lot, but there was one last thing: a note I had in the car to thank Geraldine for hosting our Mom's Group Thanksgiving.
"Wait, Geraldine! I have something for you," I said as I opened the rear door of the car and bent down to grab it. But it wasn't there. I hunted around to no avail, then straightening I looked at my friend pitifully and said, "I don't have it; I guess I forgot it."
Camille laughed, and then Geraldine and I laughed as well. It was one of those days.
And I don't think I can go back to that Cracker Barrel again....