In the Produce Dept with Dad: Conversations with Strangers

I went to the Customer Service desk at Meijers (a Michigan superstore) to return some bad lettuce for my mother. You know how sometimes it’s the idea more than the money? I went along with my dad so he wouldn’t have to walk so far, he’s 86 and has some arthritis.

The Customer Service clerk was a woman about my age, African-American. Here’s the dialogue, as close to verbatim as I can remember:

Clerk: (as she takes my lettuce) Now I want a salad for lunch!

Me: Salad is good. Is it time for your break?

Clerk: Ahuh, and I’m ready.

Me (noticing her nametag, which read “Cordelia”): So, were your parents big Shakespeare fans?

Cordelia: Nope. I didn’t know about King Lear until I was in my twenties. I was named for my aunt, who died while my mama was in labor. Story is her sister came into the room and told my daddy, “You have to name her Cordelia.” And so they did.

Me: It’s a family name, that’s great. Are you the oldest?

Cordelia: I am. My daddy always called me Dill. He used to say (sing-song), “I don’t like Dill pickles, but I like you!”

Me: Dads are great. That King Lear story is about a dad and a daughter.

Cordelia: I know, I read it and I see the movie.

(a little talk here about the movie versions, ending with:)

Cordelia: Oh! (getting teary), I miss my daddy!

Me: Cordelia was the favorite, wasn’t he? I think the name comes from the Latin for heart, doesn’t it?

Cordelia: Really?

Me: I’m pretty sure. Cordere. Heart. Daughter of the heart.

Cordelia: (wiping a few tears) Well that fits. Oh, I’m going to go eat a salad and think about my dad!

By now I had my money back. As I left, I saw my Dad strolling through the produce department with one of those itty-bitty cups of free coffee. He was wearing his “Grampy” ballcap and choosing a turnip. My Dad loves turnips.


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