I was in Walgreens on 13th Ave. in Fargo. I like to shop local when I can but I had an eye emergency. I needed solution for my contacts. We were in Fargo to see a movie and I got a piece of hair stuck to my contact. The fur from my collar was shedding apparently. I’m a responsible and reliable thinker-aheader. I carry pert-near everything I could possibly need with me in an extra bag in our vehicle. I learned that when I first became the Blonde on the Prairie. When you’re a prairie girl like me, you see, once you drive off your land you either better have what you might need with you or you’ll have to spend a pretty penny on gas to get back home to get it. That or you’ll have to spend some Washingtons just to re-buy what you already own and there is no sense in that. We walked in to the automatic doors of Walgreens when I saw a woman hunched over the handle of her shopping cart. I noticed her because she has the blackest, black hair I done ever seen. We walked in the aisle next to her to get to an aisle two aisles over where the contact solution is merchandised. On our way we stopped to look at various other sundry items. You know how that goes. You walk in for only contact solution and walk out with a bag of pecan chocolate truffles, hydrogen peroxide, new pink lipstick, dog bones, hair gel, a nose hair clipper and the new National Enquirer. I wanted to get some sunscreen for my face. A good amount of time had passed since we first walked in to the store. I turned the corner to the sunscreen aisle and there stood the black-haired woman still hunched over the handle of her shopping cart standing in the same, exact place. This time I saw the blankest of blank look on her face. I’ve seen the look before. I’ve seen the look walking through casinos on the strip in Las Vegas.
I have a gift given to me by God. It has a name. That name is “discernment.” It’s not at all affiliated with psychic abilities. In fact I rebuke the thought. My discernment is a knowing about things without knowing a thing. I’d never met this woman so I had no background to base my knowing off of. Yet I knew. If you have been given the gift of discernment then you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you don’t have the gift then I risk this sounding hocus-pocus. I’m willing to take that risk.
I walked past the black-haired woman when I knew I was supposed to go back. Her blank stare told me she was in peril. I touched her on the shoulder. “M’am, are you okay,” I asked nurturingly? She didn’t pull away. I was right.
She didn’t look crazy. She just felt lost. She never said she felt lost yet I knew she felt lost.
My glance left her face and traveled in to her cart where I found what I can only describe to you as a gigantic binder filled with plastic sheets. It must have been five or six inches thick. She still hadn’t answered if she was okay. It was an awkward silence yet I knew she was happy I was near. “Are these all coupons,” I asked not able to hide my amazement? She didn’t speak. She just shook her head. I got all enthusiastic not at all faking it. When I looked at the time, effort, organization and sheer depth of her coupon cutting I was perplexed and a bit ashamed of myself. I suddenly felt like a lazy wanna-be who only claims to be thrifty. With the excitement of a blonde getting a new hair barrette I proclaimed, “Oh my mercy! I need to learn how to do this!”
And then she spoke. No longer did I notice her black hair. No longer did I notice the tabs of her thick binder with words like, “Health and Beauty,” “Pet Supplies” and “Canned Goods” all stuffed with hundreds of coupons. I only noticed her pain. I had only gently touched her shoulder but she grabbed my hand. Like I was her child about to be kidnapped she grabbed my hand and said, “Don’t learn how to do this!” She meant it when she said it. She stood up out of her hunch, my hand still clenched in hers. She said, “My husband is leaving me because of this. I can’t stop. I have spent money we don’t have just to get more free paper towels and toilet paper. I have rooms of stuff we’ll never be able to use and I keep buying more.”
I encouraged her to donate some of the goods to the homeless shelter and to daycare facilities. Her eyes told me she couldn’t. I knew I was to stop coming up with ideas. I decided instead to get her out of her grief, realizing it would probably do not a shred of good. What is it that people love to do from their core? They love to talk about themselves and what interests them. And so I got the black-haired woman I’d never met before to talk about herself, how she got in to couponing, what her technique is and what the most is she ever saved in one shopping trip. As she talked the blank look disappeared. For a moment she connected to another human-albeit a complete stranger. For a moment her husband wasn’t leaving her. For a moment she was helping me to understand her world and why it excites her so. Something in me felt like I saved her from something.
That husband of mine walked around the corner just then and said, “Let’s go Toots!” I said, “I can’t go yet. I have to find some sunscreen for my face and pay for this stuff.”
The sunscreen was on the shelf right in front of me and the black-haired stranger with the coupon addiction. I picked out the kind I used as she stood behind me, still in her same spot. I put it in my cart and she said, “Here. Use this coupon. You’ll save $1.50.”
We saved each other. I don’t know the lesson in all of it or even if there is one. I only know I had a knowing I was supposed to share this with you.
This has been the Blonde on the Prairie from the prairie reminding all of you that gut is a three-letter world and so is God. Mix them both together and you’ll begin knowing the answers to some of life’s most perilous questions or concerns. Better yet, you may save someone who helps you save too! Be not thrifty when it comes to following a knowing. Do be thrifty on the price of shoes.
Ingstad lives on the prairie near Valley City and writes this column for the Times-Record.