I was pushing my cart down the soup aisle when I clumsily got into the space of another shopper, a little bent-over old-lady. When I apologized for getting in her way she turned to me and what I saw was the face of a very old woman, probably in her mid-to-late 80's sporting a pair of stylish black-rimmed glasses with long grey-white hair pulled back in a black hairband and a ponytail down her back.
But when she spoke her voice didn't match the years in her face. Instead of the high-pitched, crinkly voice you'd expect, hers was more the smooth alto reminiscent of the voice of a newscaster or a college professor.
What she said in response to my apology was, "Well, I'll give you my stock answer in this situation: 'Someone as charming as you could never be in my way.'"
Now, I know that kind of sounds like a little-old-ladyish thing to say, but the way she said it made her seem more like someone who just happens to be adept at engaging other people. And she no longer appeared to be an little old lady bent over with osteoporosis, but a witty, intelligent, woman. Which caused me to answer her not in that condescending tone we sometimes use to jolly cute little old ladies (which tone I'm starting to find myself on the receiving end of more and more these days) but to enter into an exchange of wit.
"Well," I replied, "I'd say that's a pretty charming reply you keep in stock."
To which her repartee was, "To which the stock come-back is usually, 'careful not to choke on that chunk of blarney."
I laughed, she smiled, and that was the end of our exchange. But it was only after she'd passed me down the aisle that I took in this woman's outfit: an over-sized buttoned-down shirt with a red and white print, loose-fitting mom jeans, hiking boots.
And I thought, Wow, that whole look really works for her. It was a look that evoked an image of an outdoorsey woman, a woman who back in her day had hiked the Appalacian Trail or the Pacific Crest Highway or both, who'd bought an old house and fixed it up, who knew how to hammer and saw and paint and fix a leaky pipe, a woman who had dogs and a horse and a big garden and who canned her own tomatoes and peaches, a well-traveled and well-read woman, maybe a teacher, maybe an environmentalist, maybe a writer, a strong, natural capable woman who is comfortable in her own skin - and clothes.
I wanted to hurry down the aisle after her and engage her in a conversation. I wanted to get her life story and take her picture. But I didn't. It would have been intrusive. And maybe a little weird. Or maybe she wouldn't have minded and would have agreed to let me interview her for my blog and use her picture. Maybe I'll run into her again some time in Kroger's and we'll get into another conversation, a longer one. Maybe she'll turn out to be nothing like I imagined her from our first short encounter.
But I enjoyed that one-minute encounter in Krogers. And I came away from it knowing that hers is the style I want if and when I make it to her age. No salon-colored perm, no pearls and polyester, no support hose and therafit mary janes for me. I'll be sporting a ponytail, loose buttoned-down shirt and over-sized jeans.