Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

A Work In Progress

I stand in front of the cashier as helpless as I would be if I were a schoolgirl facing the principle. She scowls; her fingertips tap the debit machine. I imagine her saying, “can’t you move a little faster lady, you’re ruining my chance at this month’s efficiency award.” I smile. She closes her eyes, rubs her temples.

The customer in line behind me sighs. I try to read his exhale. Is it one of understanding or exasperation? Is he in my corner? Or not? I don’t know. I have to see the expression on his face before I draw a conclusion.

Turning, I catch his eyes as they roll skyward. Or at least to the shop’s ceiling. I return to my wallet, comb it again. If everyone would just give me a minute, I know I’ll find the exact change. And that would help us all? Wouldn’t it?

As far back as I can remember, my mother used to do what I do now whenever I buy a couple of last minute groceries at Nesters or a cup of tea at Blenz or something small at the 7-11. These items don’t warrant a credit or debit card. My mother paid cash for all her purchases. Large and small. No cards for her. “I have my own money,” she would say. “I don’t need any help from anyone.”

My mother would add up her purchases in her head before she got to the cashier. Her numbers exact to a few pennies of the final bill. It’s interesting to me that even in the late stages of her illness and before she passed away, when she was at her sickest, she never lost her ability with dollars and cents. Numbers. I never inherited that particular gene.

Her paper money was in her hand ready to go. My mother would hand those over first. Then she’d dig around in her change purse for the rest. Not finding enough there, she’d mine her pockets for the last nickel or penny needed. She took pride in giving the cashier the exact amount requested as she took pride in everything she did: raising us, taking care of my dad, putting the final special touches on each Christmas gift.

I see that now, but when I was younger I remember being mortified when we arrived at the cash register. I’d obsess over it when we were shopping. How long would it take this time? Is there anything I could do to speed her along?

I saw the looks we were given by the cashier and the people behind us in line and felt my face turn crimson under the weight of their harsh stares. Sometimes I’d smile. Other times I’d shrug. I recall my foot beating the floor. I know I nudged my mother more than once to move a little faster. But there was no rushing her when she was on a mission.  

Precision, thoughtfulness and care gave my mother satisfaction, a kind of glow you see in those folks who love what they do. She was practical too. She often told me the stores needed the change. “And why do I need to carry all of this around in my pockets, when the store has drawers to put the change into,” she’d say turning out her empty pockets to show me. “It makes their job easier and it makes my job easier. Why is this difficult to understand?”

It isn’t hard to appreciate her motives anymore. I wish I would have said that to her. There was no point in me worrying about silly things like getting the ire of a cashier or another customer. How idiotic of me to get embarrassed by such inconsequential matters. “What’s the rush, for Pete’s sake?” I hear my mother say as if I’m uttering these words myself. I see her habits and her focus growing in me. I’m becoming my mother. They are big shoes to fill and I likely won’t be able to do her justice. But I’m giving it my best shot. I have a long way to go. I remain a work in progress.


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