I'm the kind of person who skips to the conversation when reading a book.
Twice in one week now, I have stood behind someone in the grocery line using WIC coupons. WIC stands for Women, Infants and Children. It is a federal program to provide healthy foods to low-income pregnant or post-partum mothers.
Participants are given coupons for specific items which they can pick up at the grocery store. The cashier must check the coupon, scan the items, then fill in the amount on the coupon, and have the mother sign it. Each coupon may have two or three items on it. It can be a slow process. A slow process indeed.
I have a great deal of compassion for WIC mothers, mainly because I was one once. I lasted only one, maybe two, months in the program before I found it so degrading and humiliating that I dropped out. We would find other places to cut in our budget to get peanut butter and cheese rather than have the government pay for it.
Yesterday’s WIC mom took the cake, however. While other shoppers spotted the coupons and steered their carts to another register, I got in line on purpose, knowing that I wasn’t in a hurry, and, like I said, I have compassion for the people who must go through this belittlement. She had at least five coupons neatly grouped with the few food items on each. When I got in line behind her, the cashier was checking whether some item qualified for WIC, which it didn’t, and for which the girl’s mother disappeared into the grocery store to find the correct item. WIC is very specific.
I studied the magazines at the check-out, trying to show that I really wasn’t in a hurry and that I really didn’t mind waiting.
The cashier finished with that coupon and scanned the next few items, moving the belt down so I could unload my cart. I had a bunch of pasta and pasta sauce (it was on sale this week), some ricotta and mozzarella cheese, some sausage, and some chicken (also on sale).
Finally, the last three items and last coupon were being scanned: one jar of peanut butter and two boxes of Frosted Mini-Wheats.
“This isn’t a WIC item,” the cashier said to the young woman, holding up the Mini Wheats. I wondered if the high sugar content made it ineligible.
“I got it last time,” the young woman said, somewhat petulantly. “‘cept it was the bite size ones. I like them better anyway.”
“Let me check,” said the cashier and called over the speaker for the manager.
“What’s the difference?” her mother asked.
“I can fit more in my mouth, and the big ones have sharp corners,” she answered.
The woman’s mother rolled her eyes at this. She looked at me. “Sorry to hold you up, ma’am,” she said. She was one of those people who looks far older than their actual years — overweight, missing teeth, but her eyes told me that she had a heart of gold.
“Looks like yer doin’ some cookin’ today,” said the younger woman, looking at my groceries.
“Yes, I am,” I said, without adding that I do some cooking everyday.
“You makin’ stuffed shells?” she asked.
“No, lasagna,” I replied.
The girl turned to her mother, “How come you never make me stuffed shells? You never make nothin’ good.”
Her mother sighed. “Last night we had ham, scalloped potatoes, and homemade bread. You just didn’t come home.”
“You never make nothin’ good when I’m there,” she retorted. “I want stuffed shells.”
I couldn’t help myself. I said to her, “You could make some stuffed shells.”
The young woman fixed her eyes on me and narrowed them.
Fortunately, at that point the manager showed up. Yes, indeed, Frosted Mini Wheats are a WIC item. It was a mistake in the computer because the store had changed from carrying the bite size to the regular size; somehow the WIC designation had been missed with the new item.
They finished their check out and left.
And I didn’t even feel sorry for her that she couldn’t fit as many in her mouth or that the corners might hurt.