I went to Albertson’s today for a few grocery items. I love it when the grocery list is small, unlike when I’m preparing for a dinner party. You get in and out quickly, and the bill is a heck of a lot less.

I’m putting a 15-bean soup with homemade vegetable broth and some sliced spicy sausage in the crock pot tomorrow morning, and plan to make a loaf of easy artisan bread to go with it for dinner tomorrow night. There was another item I also needed – SHAKE ‘N BAKE. Sometimes when George and I want an easy dinner, we’ll make chicken strips with SHAKE ‘N BAKE, put some frozen French fries in the oven, and whip up a quick salad. (Perhaps not the healthiest of meals, but better than SpaghettiO’s with Texas toast and chocolate cake, right?)

But the store was out of Chicken SHAKE ‘N BAKE. Or so it first appeared. I peered onto the top shelf and saw one lone box, with a wrinkle in it, nearly to the back. I didn’t want the generic brand. Standing on my tip-toes, I tried using the generic box to knock over the SHAKE ‘N BAKE one and pull it closer to me. (I’m 5’, 6”.) I couldn’t reach it. I looked across the aisle and found a syrup bottle. That was taller. And it didn’t work either. Out of my peripheral vision, I saw a tall, Black figure perpendicular to me pushing his grocery cart forward and not going down the same aisle. “I can get help!” I thought.

I put the syrup bottle back and went to look for the African American man. And then I thought, well, I should probably ask a tall store employee, or any employee who can get a stepstool or something.

There was only one tall employee and he was busy checking people out. All of the employees were busy. So when I found the customer in the freezer aisle, I went ahead and approached him.

Perhaps it’s just my imagination, but I wonder if African Americans keep to themselves in Albertson’s, and other stores around here, because of a reluctance to make direct eye contact with people. I found I needed to directly approach the man. Who was probably somewhere around 6’, 4” and, ahem, very good-looking.

The conversation went something like this.

Me: May I please ask you a huge favor? (Smile.)

Him: Yes. (Smile.) What is it you’re looking for?

Me: A tall person! (Smile.) I’m trying to get this box of SHAKE ‘N BAKE off of the top shelf and I can’t reach it. It’s in the flour aisle. I was trying to use a syrup bottle to get it and it didn’t work.

Him: Oh, I’m sure we can do much better than that. You don’t need to be using a syrup bottle.

We walked to the flour and baking aisle together.

Me: It was the last one.

It turns out it wasn’t the last one; there were three! I opted for two.

Me: Thank you so much!

Him: You’re very welcome.

Me: You’re the best!

Him: Happy to help.

Why am I writing about this?

Well, a couple of reasons…

Since moving here in 2007, I have found Lake Oswego to be an open and easy town to live in, whether interacting with people who have multi-million dollar homes facing the lake, or in the more forested area with less expensive homes like where I live in the Lake Grove area.

Yet Lake Oswego also has a history of racism I’ve only recently become aware of. I see few people of color in Lake Oswego. In Albertson’s today I saw only two people of color. The Black man I approached, and the Black man who often works in the bakery.

I spoke with a dear friend of mine, a voice student who is African American, before I published this. Could it be that Black people are less likely to make direct eye contact in a public place filled with mostly white people because of a history of systemic racism? That makes me sad. And it makes me angry. It makes me wonder what I can do to help change things so that everyone in a grocery store, or anywhere else, is comfortable making direct eye contact with others, if that’s what they want to do.

There is one thing  any of us can do. If we observe racist behavior, we can use our voices to call it out…that is not okay; stop it!

The other reason I’m writing about this experience is that it brought about joy for two strangers in a grocery store to randomly meet and give and receive help. It was fun. And that has nothing to do with race or culture, just humanity.

After she is tragically orphaned, young Abella loses the ability to speak her truth and express herself. She is sent to live with a reclusive uncle she’s never met, and her only friend is her horse. Abella endures heartbreak, loneliness and questions who she truly is inside. Eventually, she meets friends and animals who help her not only regain her voice, but also uncover her strength and purpose. Purchase How Abella Found her Voice for $4.95 here: https://laurahandke.com/product/how-abella-found-her-voice-e-book/

Please spread the love and pass this along to a friend!

Love Your Voice & Voice Your Love,