Almost every time I go to Costco I see someone I know. That’s what happens when you live in one area for forty years. But today, instead of seeing an old friend, I made a new one.
Part of the fun at Costco is listening to and watching people. Every trip affords an opportunity for conversation. Today was an exceptional day in that arena.
We met in the cheese aisle while lamenting the expiration dates on the fresh tubs of mozzarella. Soon an alert employee asked if she could help us. As she went to check on the supply, we started chatting – me in my plain old American English and him with a charming old world accent that I could not quite place.
Bulgaria. He was from Bulgaria. He was a long way from the food lines of the late 1990s that were the norm at that time in his home country. In less than twenty years he had gone from those lines and barely being able to feed his family, to Costco lines of carts overflowing with bulk purchases and fresh produce. And cheese.
He risked it all to come to America so he could feed his daughters. In those days the food lines started early in the morning, before dawn. He would get in line and wait for hours. There was not enough food to buy. That is a concept that I cannot even imagine as I look at the aisles stacked with more kinds of food than I can count, not to mention my own grocery cart full of steaks, spinach, tomatoes, and cheese.
He was a printer and worked in the newspaper business. One day while reading the paper he saw a small rectangular ad with details of a way to go to America – a lottery. He secretly applied – too nervous to tell even his wife. For some reason he was confident that his name would be picked but still kept his action to himself. And then he waited. Six months later a letter came. He was chosen.
I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when he told his wife the news. He told me there was a skirmish between them over it – mostly over him keeping it from her. His intentions were good – he didn’t want their everyday life to be overshadowed by a mere possibility. Even when it was time to go, they waited until the last days to tell family and friends. Some things are difficult to share with those you do life with every day. How does a person find the words to tell loved ones they are going to find a new life in another country? Words. Words can cut like a knife and soothe like a balm. They can elicit tears of hope and gratitude. They are part of happy hellos and heartbreaking goodbyes.
So I never know what I’m going to bring home from Costco. This time it was a lot more than a rotisserie chicken. This time it was a story that made me proud of this man for pursuing a new life to care for his family and proud of my country for welcoming him in.
Author’s Note: This story actually took place a year ago. I submitted it to The Costco Connection; but since I haven’t heard from them, I wanted to share it with you. This gentleman is one of the most interesting people I have ever met. It occurs to me that in this day of tension about immigration, maybe this is timely. There is a path to immigration that welcomes people to our country. I don’t fully understand how it works, but I am grateful for it. It was a process for this man that involved waiting. I’m glad he did.