When a Cashier at the Grocery Store Brought Me to Tears With 8 Words


My son, Isaac, lifted the items out of our cart one by one and placed them carefully on the conveyor belt: a bunch of bananas, two dozen eggs and an egg dyeing kit.

When the cashier announced the amount we owed, Isaac took the credit card from my hand, skillfully swiped it through the payment terminal and handed it to me without looking my way. His eyes were transfixed on the receipt that rose and curled from the register on aisle three.

“You have a nice day,” the cashier said, as I folded the receipt and tucked it into my wallet. Isaac didn’t move from the end of the aisle. He was happy watching customers come and go. I lifted our bag of groceries into the cart and touched his arm.

“Wait,” I said. “Wait. I need to go to customer service. You need to wait for me.”

Waiting is not easy for Isaac, and I always wonder what’s going to happen. He’s a wildcard. Will he sprint towards the automatic doors by the credit union, laughing when he sees people entering the store? Or will he stand nearby for a few short minutes and express his displeasure by screaming? Will he stare endlessly at people who are buying groceries? 

I hoped Isaac’s patience would be longer than the line.

As luck would have it, there were a gazillion people in line: a woman wanting to mail a package, a man with a mail order, a woman who needed to buy stamps…

Photo of Hy-Vee store
Every Tuesday I drive Isaac to our local Hy-Vee grocery store whether or not anything’s on my shopping list. He also goes with my husband, Chris, every Saturday for our weekly grocery haul – and he’s there any day in between when we need an item or two.

I’d guess Isaac visits the store five times a week – that’s a grand total of 260 visits for the year. I might be wrong. If so, I’m probably underestimating how often he’s there. If the grocery store were an airport, we’d be frequent flyers – the gold elite status members entitled to all the perks.

The employees at Hy-Vee are nice enough, although I don’t always think they live up to their slogan:  “A helpful smile in every aisle.” My 10-year-old son, Henry, joked the slogan should be changed to “A helpful smile in the bakery once in a while.” Nobody gives us the evil eye, and I’ve never heard a manager or an employee say anything rude, even years ago when Isaac spent considerable time playing with the automatic doors. We’ve always felt welcome in the store, which is one of the reasons we return so often. If Isaac could put a bed in aisle four and convince management to turn off most of the lights by 9:30 p.m., he’d likely move in.

Fortunately, Isaac was content to wait while I stood in line. He stayed about 15 yards from me, his eyes glued to the checkout lanes. I wondered how long he’d stay there without taking off and abandoning our cart. I figured if he ran off, I’d chased after him and we’d go home.

After a few minutes of waiting, an older man wearing a blue plaid shirt walked towards the front of the line. I wasn’t going to let him get in front of me, no matter what he needed. What if my son ran off before I was helped? Didn’t he know it was a gamble for me to be in line in the first place? Didn’t he know by looking at my gray hair and the bags under my eyes that my son has autism? 

Suddenly I found myself at the front of the line explaining what I needed to the woman behind the customer service counter.

“His mind is always thinking, isn’t it? It’s going a million miles an hour,” she said.

I looked at the older gentleman who’d been trying to cut in line. Was that an offhanded comment directed towards him? Was his mind going a million miles an hour, trying to find ways to cut in line? Had she seen him do this before?

Then it hit me. She was talking about Isaac. Of course she had seen us often in the store and knew we were together.

I nodded and pulled out a pile of receipts.

“We just love when he comes in here,” she said. Her words were genuine and so was her smile. 

I couldn’t believe it.

We just love when he comes in here. 

“That’s so nice of you to say,” I stammered, struck silent for a bit. “We’re here a lot. He loves coming in here.”

She nodded. “Is it the bright colors he likes?”

“Oh, it’s the whole experience – the people coming and going, the automatic doors, the loudspeaker, the conveyor belts, the elevator by the bathrooms, the sound when an item is scanned at the registers. It would be his dream to work here, I think,” I said.

She nodded and continued scanning my receipts.

“He has autism,” I added. His diagnosis is something I don’t disclose in public unless someone really needs to know. Because she was so friendly and interested, I wanted to tell her.

She didn’t say anything. She looked at me compassionately, as though she’d known her entire life that a little boy named Isaac had been diagnosed with autism 11 years earlier.

“He’s even looked me in the eye before,” she said proudly. Her statement made me wonder if she, too, knew and loved someone with autism.

She counted the money and placed it in my hand. As I opened my purse, she said, “Thank you. You two have a good day.”

Then she paused and really looked at me. She saw me. She saw Isaac. This is what I saw in her kind eyes and heard in the tone of her voice:

I’ve seen you in this store a million times.

I’ve seen your son walk with you, hand in hand.

I’ve seen him give you a kiss on your cheek. 

I bet you’re tired.

I bet you’re frustrated at times.

I bet some days you feel like the luckiest mama in the world.

I’ve seen your son’s love for the automatic doors. 

I’ve seen your son’s love for the elevator by the bathrooms.

I’ve seen the love you have for your son.

I’ve seen the love your son has for you.

Your son is incredible. 

We just love when he comes in here.

Isaac was still standing in the same location, gazing out into the sea of people and carts and conveyor belts.

“It’s time to go, Isaac,” I said. “Push the cart out.”

As usual, we exited through the wine and spirits department. Even though there’s a checkout there, we’ve never used it. It’s Isaac’s favorite store entrance, though, so we enter and exit there every time. I reminded Isaac to slow down as he put away the cart and bounded through the automatic doors.

The moment I stepped outside, my eyes filled with tears. It caught me off guard. Isaac had taken the van keys and was leading me towards our vehicle. He always remembers exactly where I parked the van. And as we were walking in the parking lot, I wiped away tears.

For a few minutes we sat in the van and listened to his favorite country music station, 98.5 FM. I replayed the scene over and over in my mind.

Isaac’s been to Hy-Vee a few thousand times in his short life. Although employees have been friendly enough, nobody had spoken up until today. We just love when he comes in here.

I heard:

You matter.

Your son matters.

We appreciate differences.

We just love when he comes in here. 

On the drive home I fought back tears, bit my lip and dabbed my eyes with a tissue. Like usual, I drove the long way home – past the library and coffee shop and McDonald’s and up the hill to the car wash  — because the routine makes Isaac happy.

I was happy, too, because a stranger — who didn’t have to say anything — was considerate enough to share her encouraging words with me.

It only took one kind heart and eight words.

We just love when he comes in here. 

This post originally appeared on Turn Up the V.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. No gesture is too small! If you’d like to participate, please send a blog [email protected] Please  include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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