A sneak preview of heaven, starring a college kid, a grocery store checkout line and a pot of chicken soup

Sweetheart is sick. So, this afternoon, after a quick stop to say hi to Mom, I made a grocery run for chicken soup ingredients (or, as some people refer to it, “Jewish penicillin). I’ve been making this particular recipe ever since my friend Sarah K shared it with me some (gulp) 30 years ago. It’s called “Golden Chicken Soup,” and I don’t remember the cookbook it was in. It is magical chicken soup with mystical powers, full of Jewish mother healing mojo because I carry centuries of mitochondrial DNA from all the mothers before me who have been healing the people they love with chicken soup. I always have some frozen in small packages to take to sick friends, and to have on hand if one of us gets sick.

I was sick last week, so it was time to restock.
A pot of soup on a stove
A pot of Jewish Mother Healing Elixir, more commonly known as chicken soup.

At the store, I had a great chat with the young man behind the meat counter, who weighed up four pounds of backs and necks (99¢/lb.). I left Steve with a list of food-related movies to watch after I told him the other secret of truly fabulous chicken soup, which is parsley root. (If you’re wondering about the list, I was in a hurry and am sure I missed some, but I wrote down “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” “Tampopo,” “Babette’s Feast,” “Big Night” and, even though it’s not a food movie and just because I love it,  “Diva.”)

Then, I picked up celery and parsley root (I had the rest of the ingredients at home) and went through the checkout line. The total came to $11.05. I rifled my purse for my RFID case, and couldn’t find it. I wasn’t sure I had enough cash on me, and was in the process of pulling out my wallet when a  voice behind me said, “I’ll get it,”

As I turned to see who was speaking, I caught a flash of arm movement as he swiped a card through the reader. The speaker was a slight, sweet-looking young man, probably about 21.

I looked him over.

“Are you independently wealthy?”

He smiled.

“No,” he said, “but I have enough.” He entered his PIN, signed the pad and the deed was done.

By then, I had my wallet and change purse in  hand, and peeled off a $10 and a $1, which he waved aside.

“No, it’s okay,” he said. “I want to.”

Inside my head, I was cheering. I was cheering for this kid and for the world, overflowing with white light and gratitude, both for the gift I was getting and the gift I had been given by being able to accept his gift in the spirit in which he’d offered it.

“Really?” I said “Then, thank you!”

We were both grinning.

“You know, pay it forward,” he said.

“Yes!” I said. “Exactly! If you want to – if you wouldn’t mind giving me your name and address, I’ll bring you some of the soup I’m going home to make.”

I handed him my pink note pad with the sparkly hearts on the cover, a gift from my friend Jody. He wrote down his name and address.

“Best shopping day EVER!” I said to the cashier as he was writing his name. She agreed, smiling as she checked out the customers in line behind us.

The young man handed back my pad.

“There’s a quart of chicken soup in your future,” I told him. Then I looked at his name and address.

He lives on the same street as Mom’s nursing home. We walked out together, he with a small bag of food and a yellow Kalanchoe plant, me with my ingredients.

He’s a filmmaking student at UWM. So if any of my big shot Hollywood pals are in the market for an intern, I have a great candidate for you. His name is Sean.

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