Tomorrow, Grandma and Grandpa Campbell are coming up from Virginia for Owen's preschool pageant. We'll all be terribly impressed with his shepherd-ness, and following the after-party (note: buy ranch dressing!), we'll sojourn back to our house for split pea soup (mine), cheese toast (my mother-in-law), and Christmas cookies (again, MIL).
To prepare for the festivities, I took the boys to Safeway to pick up ingredients. Following the recipe on the back of the Safeway-brand split peas, I walked over to the Strange Swine section to find ham hocks.
Although I found trotters, ears, neckbones, and yes, snouts, I could not find the hocks. I looked around me, because I enjoy starting up conversations with strangers in the grocery store. Paul has fondly told me in the past, "You believe that the entire world is just waiting to be your friend, don't you?"
I've always been grateful for the revelations from stranger chit-chat, because I believe that we're already plenty isolated with our Blackberries and our private driveways, and it's a good thing---a human thing---to acknowledge others when going through the motions of the day.
So, I looked around, the words, "Has anybody seen the ham hocks?" poised to leap off my tongue. I opened my mouth, but then closed it again, because the only people around me were older African American women, and I second-guessed myself.
I did not want to be the fool asking these nice women about ham hocks. I didn't want the thought "Oh, you're asking me about ham hocks, 'cause I'm Black, right?" to enter their minds. I didn't want to presume that these women knew anything about ham hocks, or inadvertently stumble into a Great Racial Dialogue when all these ladies probably wanted to do was stock their pantries.
And so, I continued to look, and asked Owen, loudly, "Hey, Buddy? Do you know where the ham hocks might be? What could I use instead of ham hocks?"
Owen, naturally, looked at me and said, "I don't know, Mommy." Nobody else jumped in with advice.
Finally, I saw an employee and she shared with me that they were out of ham hocks, due to the recent blizzard. She suggested pork necks, instead.
One of the ladies overheard our conversation and nodded vigorously. She said, "Or you could use turkey wings, if you don't want the pork flavor."
Having opened the door, she and I talked for a good five minutes about the Strange Swine section, as she passed on some tips involving fat back and black-eyed-peas. She asked Owen if he was a good boy, and he explained that he was, and that we would get a kid mailbox on Christmas morning.
She said, "What are you gonna do with a mailbox?"
"Get mail," he said, "And send mail too! But no bills!"
The exchange ended with pats on the back, and "You and your beautiful boys have a very Merry Christmas, dear!"
I floated away, as I always do when I encounter the gentle grace of former strangers.
And yet---my fears of insulting, of appearing judgmental or racist, almost kept that exchange from occurring.
And yet---I would have probably done it the exact same way.
Liberal white guilt or common sense? What do you think?