I was driving around Decatur last week when I suddenly felt very sick. I needed to immediately get somewhere safe where I could take care of my offending gut, and when I neared a familiar store, I sped into the parking lot. I rushed to the ladies room just in time to throw up. I stayed there for quite a while.
While I was monopolizing the sole women’s bathroom, there was frequent knocking on the door. I could only call out, “I’m sorry! I’m sick!” Then suddenly the knocking stopped. Later, I found out that the women who were knocking had been instructed to access the men’s restroom, but, just then, I was dealing with my own condition and at the same time feeling guilty about keeping others out.
When at last I emerged, two women were waiting for me. One of them looked almost exactly like the symbolic “Aunt Jemima” character, (including gingham head scarf); the other resembled a school librarian I once feared. I had seen both of them before in that shop, but I couldn’t remember if they were clerks, stock room workers, or managers. “Aunt J” stopped me and spoke. I expected to be chastised, but instead, I was comforted.
“We’re women,” Aunt J affirmed. “We saw you run in, and we knew you were in some kind of trouble. So we stood at the door and sent other ladies to the men’s bathroom. We didn’t know what was wrong, and it didn’t matter, anyway. We just stayed put until you came out. When one sister is hurting, we’re all hurting.”
I didn’t think of my digestive distress as an opportunity for female bonding, but Aunt J surprised me so much that I had to think about it. “I’m really grateful,” I answered. Then I added, “But I have a feeling that if a man had run in like I did, you’d feel compassion for him, just like you did for me.”
Librarian spoke, “Don’t be too sure about that!” she stated matter-of-factly, turning to walk away.
“She’s had a hard life, a very hard woman’s life,” Aunt J explained, succinctly. That was a powerful explanation, and I didn’t need to ask anything else. I thanked them again and left.
Several weeks later, I was back in that store. I was checking out, and the cashier looked familiar. She wasn’t wearing the head scarf, and she had on eye makeup. Was it Aunt J?
“I see you’re feeling better today,” she said, smiling.
“I thought it was you,” I said, “but I wasn’t sure you’d recognize me. You look great. I hope you and your friend are having a good day.”
She knew who I meant. “My friend isn’t.”
I sensed that Aunt J wanted to tell me more, but she was on duty. There was an impatient gentleman behind me, and the line was growing.
As Aunt J checked me out, she saw I was buying a boxed set of three exercise bands. “I’ve been meaning to get one of these,” she told me. “I need to work out, but I can’t get to a gym.”
“Go ahead and take one!” I said, “I don’t need all three.”
“I’m not supposed to open customers’ packages,” Aunt J explained.
This was no time for discussion. I snapped the box open, pulled a band out, and handed it to her. The man behind me was already starting to put his purchases on the counter.
In spite of her ample girth, Aunt J edged up, reached completely across the counter, and hugged me. “I said it to you before,” she affirmed, “we’re women and we help each other!”
As I was getting into my car, the man who had been standing behind me, approached. I was sorry that my little interchange with Aunt J had delayed him. I was ready to apologize, but he stopped me.
“What you just did was pretty cool,” he said. “You women crack me up!”
Fortunately, I didn’t have to fashion a clever or meaningful response because, having expressed his opinion, he got into his car and drove off.