I was standing in the check-out line at a pet store yesterday, holding a case of canned dog food with both hands. On top of the cans I had stacked a bag of biscuits made of fish and sweet potatoes, a bag of dehydrated veggie chews, and a squeaky dragon toy that I would regret buying later. I was mostly consumed with thoughts of potential catastrophe should I lose my grip on any of the load, which would cause a cascade of tinned Beef Dinner with Garden Vegetables to annihilate my freshly stitched-up left foot. The surgery three days prior was minor, but it had required anesthesia and a prescription for enough pain pills to make me ponder the profit potential of an at-home business, a la Breaking Bad.
Just kidding. You read this food blog because it’s quirky, remember?
Thus distracted, it took awhile for the impasse ahead of me to register. A slender woman in a sundress, backpack straps crisscrossing her front, held two shopping bags in one hand and the leash of a recalcitrant dog in the other. The dog was hunkered down near my lame foot, which was why I finally snapped out of my disaster scenario reverie. Then I realized that the woman’s backpack had wiggling legs and arms of its own, and a head, because it held a small human, who was watching the proceedings with interest. The cashier came out from behind the counter to help.
The young mother was trying to coax her dog to leave the store, but she was limited in her ability to bend down and grab the pooch. Too much leaning would tip that baby right out of his perch on her back. The cashier tried to attract the dog’s attention with a treat from a box kept near the cash register. My dogs disdain those dessicated free biscuits. They’ve tasted the good stuff, and an inferior substitute is always met with a sniff of rejection. This woman’s dog was no different. Besides, her eyes were fixed on the panels of glass moving back and forth in the doorway. Every time someone stepped in the range of the automatic door’s electric eye, the panels opened with a whoosh, and the dog was petrified.
Well, I was up for the challenge. I dumped my load on the counter, opened the bag of fishy biscuits I planned to buy, and offered one to the scared dog. No dice. She didn’t move. Would she let me pick her up, I asked her owner. The young woman gave me a harried smile. “She weighs 32 pounds,” she said in lightly accented English. “I’d hate for you to have to do that.” My left foot would hate for me to have to do that, I thought. The dog continued to hug the floor and stare at the whooshing glass. She offered no encouragement to a stranger thinking of scooping her up. I reverted to my first idea and held the fishy biscuit in front of her, nudging her rear end with my good foot. She moved an inch. It was enough, as if the dog possessed suction cups for paws, and the seal had broken. The young mother pounced on the momentum and, finely balancing the squealing load on her back with just the right pull on the leash, got the dog through the doors and out of the store, saying a quick thanks before the doors closed behind her.
Wow, she’s got her hands full, I said to the cashier as she rang up my purchases. The woman agreed and said that her own daughter had just had a baby and was looking at her mother with new appreciation. You don’t know until you live it, I said.
I headed to my car with the box and bags. As luck would have it, the young mother had parked next to me. Rear passenger door open, she was leaning forward in a posture of entreaty toward someone in her car’s back seat. The baby, still strapped to her back, bounced and waved his arms in the humid air. I was confused, knowing the woman had no adult help, but the matter cleared up when I got closer. The woman’s dog had ensconced herself in the comfy, padded confines of the baby’s car seat, and no amount of cajoling, pleading, and pushing would make the canine move.
Lordy, I thought, the force of this dog’s will is impressive. I had to laugh. Want me to get on the other side, I asked the woman. She nodded, laughing too, offering a rush of explanations as to why she was in this predicament. I recognized the desire of that young mother to be independent; to handle every bit of chaos, small and large, with the strength of her own devices. But sometimes a person just needs a hand, or three, to get a job done. I unloaded the stuff in my arms, then opened the woman’s other passenger door. The dog, draped like heavy curtains over and across the contours of the car seat, wouldn’t look at me. Between her owner’s pushing and me pulling, we got the dog out of the car seat and onto the backseat without loss of life or limb. The dog let me scratch her soft ears, then I quickly shut the car door to prevent an escape. No hard feelings.
On my way home, because I am obsessed with the subject of good-tasting food, I considered what would constitute a good food bribe in my world. It would have to be a sweet, and I’ve written about several over the life of Cookbook Wall. The following is my short list of personally effective food bribes. At the very least, I would follow anyone holding any of these through a set of scary automatic doors. (Click on the links for related blog posts and recipes.)
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For years, I kept a newspaper photo pinned to my bulletin board as a reminder to keep my own problems in proper perspective. Although the quality of the photo has degraded over time, the image still haunts and humbles me. It shows a woman dressed in a shirt and sarong, a refugee of war in the Republic of the Congo. Her head wrapped in a striped scarf, she holds a mattress weighted heavily with belongings steady on her back with her left hand, while her right hand clutches a toddler tied in a cloth around her body. Two small boys walk in front of her, and the belly of one is distended. The woman’s expression is stoic, while her toddler son looks terrified. Other adults walk behind her.
I’m not sure why I think of this woman, a mother guiding her young family in devastating circumstances, in the process of writing about another who just had to buy dog food yesterday. But I do. Don’t think I ever take for granted the blessing and privilege of having plenty to eat, with enough excess to buy treats for my much-loved dogs. It’s not a reality for many Americans, nor for most people around the world.
Feel like making a difference? Consider sponsoring a child through the charity organization called Unbound, based in Kansas City, Kansas. Charity Watch, an American group providing vigilant, objective oversight, gives Unbound an A+ rating, with 93 percent of its program proceeds going to the support of needy children, elders, and young adults around the world. Click here for more information.