Unexpected Pleasures: Talking with Kathy the Deli Lady


I had an interview/meeting today in a building located near a Publix. I hadn’t eaten yet, and knew I didn’t have much in the way of nutrition at home (like any self-respecting bachelor pad), so I made my way over with the intent of picking up cereal and oatmeal.While I was cruising the aisles, looking dapper in my suit, I realized I wanted a sandwich.

My girlfriend tells me I make great sandwiches, so I’m striving to become even better by trying out new meats, cheeses, etc. Someday, I will be the sandwich king.

Anyway, I saunter over to the deli counter and start looking through the options. I tried some salami on a sandwich recently that made me curious about the options I had in that area, so with salami in mind, I caught the wandering eye of Kathy the deli lady. She had a bit of a lazy eye, a hair net, plastic gloves, a little on the short side, but she had a great smile and that’s what caught my attention. A lot of people who interact with you in a grocery store are short and to the point, ready to move on with their lives and content to let you go about yours. Kathy smiled and let me take my time, and so gave me some of hers.

We got to talking about the meats, the cheeses, and slowly the conversation turned to our lives. I told her about why I was dressed up, she told me about her four grandchildren. She told me she came from Tampa, I told her about my own grandparents in Florida. Kathy kept handing me meat and cheese samples (as I requested. She was a pro, with 26 years of experience backing up her recommendations) and I kept eating them. Soon, my trip to the grocery for breakfast became stocking up for lunch for the week. Kathy told me all about the different flavors I was tasting, what it would work with, why she preferred red wine over white, which cheese will work best with what meat. I cracked jokes, as I am won’t to do, and she laughed sincerely. Not just the thin laugh of a disinterested tangential acquaintance, but the full laugh of someone who truly enjoyed my company while knowing so little about me.

I’m sure that by the time I got home and unpacked her suggestions, she had smiled and engaged a few other passerby. I’m sure she looked at them with a warmth directed slightly to the right of where they were standing, but warmth they could feel right on their chest.

I write this post to sing for the unsung, to give a little credit to the people we don’t always see or recognize. I don’t always appreciate the people I walk past, the people who help me get through the day. When I do, I am consistently astounded to realize the life and vitality that is present all around me. How many days of the year are we a rail car on a track, single minded and narrowly focused on our path? We rush through a blur, so quickly that we don’t recognize the faces that make up that blur. My hat is off to the men and women who take the time to smile genuinely and share a bit of themselves with you, a total stranger. My hat is off to you, Kathy the Deli Lady.

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