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I stood behind the small desk that held the cash register, donation can, and some assorted knick-knacks. It was a warm, slow Kentuckiana day.
She opened the door to the thrift store - quietly. She wore jeans, a plain white shirt, and a dark cardigan. The clothes were not in the best shape. They were not dirty though, just well worn. The clothes might have been a little wrinkled, and there were hints of small wrinkles on her cheekbones. Her wrinkles were not from age though, she was only 30 or 35; considering the circumstances, they were most likely from the stress of a second job that still did not quite make ends meet. Character, some might call it. Two children followed her through the door - quietly. It was a boy and his younger sister. Their clothes were in some disarray, but not unlike the clothes of any other children of six or eight. His jeans had a few grass stains and her dress might haven been a little frayed at the hem. The boy dragged the little girl along by the hand. They had clean hands. I made my hourly rounds to collect any loose hangers. I had not become the “Hanger Boy” by accident.
The family moved throughout the store, the mother searching through racks and boxes the children ambling along behind and occasionally wandering off to investigate some nook or closet in the store. The mother did not pick up the first item she saw. She went through the jeans. After sifting through two or three pairs she pulled out a dark gray pair. A shirt quickly followed the jeans into her basket. As she moved into the children’s section, the two little followers perked up considerably. It was their turn. The sock selection seemed a little mundane for them and their interest began to flag. Noting this, the mother moved along. The boy, to his apparent delight, discovered a variety of shoes ranging from light-ups to those of the dressier sort. Appropriately he chose a pair of Power Ranger themed light-ups. He smacked them together a few times to watch them flash; there was delight in his eyes. The girl found some night gowns that were just her size. She gravitated towards the Disney Princesses, of course. The nearly gaudy gown with Jasmine splashed across the front appeared to be her favorite. The mother collected her children’s finds and added them to the basket.
I had returned to the front desk after leaving my load in the back. She brought her basket to the desk. I tallied up her purchases on the small notepad next to the register. I looked up and stated the total. She dug through her purse whose condition matched her clothes. She pulled out a man’s wallet. It contained a few small bills but was mostly filled with change. She slowly counted out the money onto the desk -- not reluctantly, just slowly. She scooped it up and closed her hand into a fist. She looked me in the eye and dropped a mix of bills and coins into my hands. Her eyes were full of pride.
The family in the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store was a normal family. I could see myself in that little boy, fascinated by a simple pair of shoes. The only difference between me and that boy was income level. That family had the same values as any other family. The children were intrigued by a trip to the store just like I would have been. The mother was proud to be able to hand over that money and provide for her children. She was achieving the main goal of any mother, regardless of place in society. She was looking for a helping hand, not a hand-out. Despite income, race, or creed, everyone is human and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Seeing myself reflected in the family on the other side of the desk showed me that everyone -- every single person -- has the same basic wants, desires, and goals, and that it is my duty as a fellow man to do my best to help others in those pursuits.