Josna Rege

521. Hoppity-skip

In Books, Food, poetry, seasons, Stories on November 24, 2022 at 1:17 am

    from When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne

This morning I ventured out on my errands reluctantly, since I expected that the shops would all be mobbed on the day before Thanksgiving and my tolerance for shopping is low at the best of times. But I was wrong: it was crowded, no doubt, yet my outing was painless and, in fact, brought me unexpected joy.

It took me a long time to find a place to park in the lot outside Dollar Tree, where Andrew had asked me to look for little mesh bags to fill with our dried lavender. This was partly because in these inflationary times, people are desperately seeking to eke out their paychecks; and partly because the Dollar Tree is only a couple of doors down from another destination for the desperate, Liquors 44. Donning my mask, I dived in.

Even dollar stores are subject to inflation; in June 2022 Dollar Tree announced that it was increasing its prices by 25%, but there were still bargains to be found among the detritus of our consumer society. And what a mass of detritus had washed up for the holidays! Paper, plastic, and metal goods galore for presents, parties, crafts, and household use; bottles of cleaning supplies for surfaces of all kinds, including floors, sinks, and human skin; glue, glitter, artificially scented candles, creams, and incense; decorations of all kinds for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, birthdays, baby and bridal showers. All for $1.25 each. I combed the aisles and piles for mesh bags to no avail, emerging with one pair of unscented candles and one pack of plastic zip-lock sandwich bags. Finally, I located a store employee (amazingly, because on one of the busiest shopping days of the year there were only two staffed registers—one more than normal, I must admit), who led me straight to the baby shower section and expertly retrieved the one remaining packet of tiny organza gift bags. Mission accomplished! At last I was able to check out (only $3.98 for all three items, including tax) and burst out into the cold, fresh November air, gasping for breath.

Of course I wasn’t the only person “lost in the supermarket” (shout-out to The Clash): there were scores of fellow human beings, all engaged in the grim task of striking as many items as possible off their shopping lists. Still, in all that crowd, everyone was polite and considerate. And, unlike me, many were not just responsible for themselves, but were carrying infants and shepherding children and wayward spouses through it all, trying to keep track of and call out to each other over the uproar. Respect! One little boy asked his mother if he could have one of the colorful items balanced on a teetering display right at his eye level. She hesitated for a moment, as if calculating the additional cost; then relented and said, Okay. Yes! An older teenage girl was scouting the party section, clearly looking for something in particular. Having found it, she took it to show her mother, who said that they already had a stash of these very items in their basement. The sensible girl nodded and returned the item.

Out in the parking lot on the way to my car I saw a small family leaving the store just ahead of me, a mother carrying a baby and holding the hand of her young son, perhaps five years old. He was swinging a small plastic bag with their modest haul in it, his whole body squirming with delight. Finally, unable to contain himself any longer, he gave a little hop and a skip, still keeping careful hold of the bag. Hoppity-skip.

I found that little boy’s simple hoppity-skip of happiness deeply touching. A few small but precious items from the Dollar Tree, searched for, found, and successfully purchased to take home, had brought him so much pleasure. I thought how little it took to make a child happy, and how many children throughout the world, and even here in the wealthy United States, were suffering from hunger, want, and war. How many children were denied even these tiny moments of joy. 

I thought of William Blake’s Infant Joy from his Songs of Innocence:

I have no name 
I am but two days old.— 
What shall I call thee?
I happy am 
Joy is my name,— 
Sweet joy befall thee!
 

and then of its counterpart in Songs of Experience, Infant Sorrow. In the first two stanzas of his Holy Thursday: is This a Holy Thing to See, also in Songs of Experience, Blake wrote: 


Is this a holy thing to see

In a rich and fruitful land

Babes reduced to misery
Fed with cold and usurous hand?

Is that trembling cry a song?
Can it be a song of joy?
And so many children poor?
It is a land of poverty!

More happily, I thought of the poem, simply called “Hoppity”, from one of my earliest books, A.A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young. Christopher Robin cannot not hop, because it is a child’s nature to hop and skip, to gambol like a lamb. In fact, happiness is the natural state of children. We adults, in all our rapacity, have created a perverse world indeed, in which children’s well-being counts for so little.

Before I got to my car my eyes fell upon another person, a middle-aged woman coming alone out of the liquor store with a long, narrow brown paper bag twisted tightly at the top. She was cradling it carefully in her arms and appeared to be stroking the top of it. I looked away, saddened at the sight, sorry that it had cast a shadow on my moment of joy at seeing the little boy skipping. And yet that woman was also a Thanksgiving shopper, her humanity and life experience as precious as the child’s. Both sights had to be held in the mind’s eye.

I came home with my own successful Dollar Tree haul and showed it triumphantly to Andrew, who spent the evening rubbing the lavender flowers and flower-buds from the dried stems and and filling the mesh bags to make sachets. The cleansing aroma of lavender permeated the air. Then I prepared a hot sage, ginger, lemon, and honey tea, which we are sipping now, with gratitude.

Joy to the world.

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  1. I’m heartened that Thanksgiving in the US gives voice for generous and also simple expressions of.gratitude,.Josna, and not just the gratuitous commercialisation occasioned by Black Friday following directly after. It restores my faith in human nature. Thank you..😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Chris. Yes, Black Friday is crass commercialism, compounded by the fact that this year the Amazon workers were entreating the public not to buy through Amazon on that day. There has been a movement for at least a decade to pronounce the day after Thanksgiving Buy Nothing Day. I must admit that I did buy something this year, but ordered it directly from the company that made it.
      More to your point, though, I admire the courage of the increasing numbers of people who are hard-pressed to pay the bills and am moved by their determination to make holidays like Thanksgiving memorable for their families, despite everything.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I hope the middle aged woman with the narrow bag was taking wine to a dinner gathering today or was going to enjoy herself whatever her plans were.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the important corrective, Kristin. One can’t assume that every middle-aged woman coming out of a liquor store on her own is a lonely lush! She could well have been me, clutching my purchases tightly lest they slip and smash to smithereens on the parking lot, and preoccupied with the next item on my To Do list. x J

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  3. Happy Thankgiving. That was a lovely, somewhat Buddhistic piece. Being grateful for everyday pleasures should be everyone’s daily practice. Can you imagine how much more mellow the world would be, then. Lots of love, G.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Happy Thanksgiving to you, dear Gail! Gratitude is something I am only recently learning to cultivate, and with difficulty. Thank you. x J

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  4. Hari OM
    Wonderful thoughts and acknowledgement that joy has variations, some slightly dark. I wish you all the best for Thanksgiving day! YAM xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, dear YAM, for your comment and your good wishes. That is what I took away from reading Blake as an undergraduate, that the simple joys of innocence must be rediscovered in all their complexity through the prism of experience. Pleasure cannot be unalloyed in this world. And yet, by fully understanding this, one can return to a deeper joy. . . xxo J
      P.S. I owe you a reply to your thought-provoking comment on an earlier post. x

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