I stopped at my local meat market on the way home from work yesterday to pick up a few dinners and some lunch meat. The place was packed with people, and just standing in line was a chore, having to move back and forth to let people pass to get to the deli side.
I was next in line, and the woman in front of me, with her daughter who looked like she could have been 13 or 14, was having trouble with the machine accepting her EBT card (for those that don't know, this is basically a government issued food stamp card meant to look like a debit card).
The cashier was loud, and completely unaware of how she began to embarrass the mother by saying, "Do you have money in here? It's not working!" I could feel my chest tighten, not only was this extremely awkward but it was also a flashback to my own childhood and how ashamed I felt on a daily basis to be the poor kid going to school in an upper class neighborhood.
The mother straightened right up and said "How DARE you ask something like that and embarrass my child and I in front of all these people? You should just shut your mouth and do your job!" By this time, the line was full, stretching to the back of the tiny shop.
By the third try, the machine finally worked. The mother snatched the receipt from the cashier and turned to leave. The cashier was trying to quell the situation by saying "It's fine, see? The machine worked, it was just the buttons? No big deal, calm down!" She tried to laugh it off. I could still feel the daughter's presence and I just couldn't look over, I knew she was staring down the cashier. I heard her say "It's NOT funny" before following her mother out the door.
My heart dropped even further. I intimately know that feeling, that embarrassment. I know what it's like to have to remove a few items from your cart because there's not enough money. I know what it's like to just leave an entire cart load of food for the bagger to re-shelf because the cashier won't accept my mother's check. I know what it's like to get turned away because the store doesn't accept food stamps. I know what it's like to get denied a basic need for survival, because we just didn't have the money.
I couldn't speak after that. The cashier tried to stick up for herself and continued to laugh off the situation all the while checking me out. It was all a blur then, I just made grunting noises and snorts and signed my receipt and got out of there as quickly as I could. I couldn't empathize with the cashier, as much as I knew she had absolutely no idea how she just made that mother and child feel.
I nearly burst into tears on what felt like the longest walk home in a long time. The whole event brought back a flood of emotions. I felt sad for the mother and especially for her girl. I was reminded of my own childhood struggles, but also thankful for what I have now.