Once a month, Leo and I take our friend Milee to grocery store.
Milee is probably in her 80s. She wears blue eyeliner and has permed gray hair and beautifully manicured fingernails and toenails. She emphatically does not own a computer, and I doubt she ever will. I think she smokes cigarettes.
Milee has a tendency towards crotchety-ness at the grocery store. The overwhelming array of choices irritates her, and she does not appreciate the too-large portions of most frozen meals (her most common dinner, as far as I can tell). Like many elderly women, she has a small appetite and a thin frame. She tends to be suspicious of new food trends: I heard that almond milk is just regular milk with a different label. You wouldn't really put kale in a smoothie?!?!
Milee has a sweet tooth. She invariably buys a large piece chocolate cake and at least two packages of Klondike bars. But we share a disdain for too-sweet desserts and milk chocolate. She never fails to treat Leo to a donut with chocolate frosting and sprinkles. She knows the way to a toddler's heart is through his stomach, and she scolds me when I worry about him--his diet, his weight, his (lack of) manners. She knows it will all turn right in the end.
Milee's had her share of grief. She's lost a husband and a son, and she's recovering from a broken hip. Her son and daughter-in-law are busy and even her grandchildren are grown. Taking her to the grocery store is a two-three hour event.
It takes scheduled effort for me to work up the energy to call Milee once a month to schedule this trip. I start pepping myself up for the shopping trip from the minute I wake up. It is not natural or easy for me to keep a running stream of superficial conversation with another person, especially in this case, when it's not just good manners but also my responsibility. When we come home, Leo is not the only one who needs a nap.
But I'm glad I do it and not just for the karma. The setting of the grocery store provides conversation fodder after all. She complains about the plethora of options, and I talk about my children's diets. We discuss what I should make for our next dinner guests, and she never fails to ask the next month whether the meal went well. I brought her a piece of the cranberry pie I made for my parents in December, and she gave me a box of chocolate. Sometimes we circle around deeper topics of conversation.
Slowly, gradually, I think we've become friends. No longer on unequal footing, we are simply two women with share life experiences while shopping together.