I won't say I depend on the kindness of strangers. I'm no Blanche Dubois, Naive Southern Belle of Classic Theater Fame - although I'm going to guess at least a few people reading this have no idea who I'm talking about.
That's okay, I spend a good portion of my day staring blankly at people who reference various commercials or TV shows or even musicians. I used to know these things, I swear.
Now I just throw out weird literary references like smokescreens and then make my escape.
While I'm generally cautious at best with strangers (especially strangers who feel like they can knock on my door and expect me to actually answer it, I'm looking at you weird guy who offered to powerwash our house), I have been known to rely heavily on grandmothers.
This is a basic truth of life - everywhere you go, there will be grandmothers. Those grandmothers cannot stand idly by while someone catches their death of cold out there or hasn't had a snack in four hours or needs to comb their hair a bit more often, young lady.
A couple of months ago, Jason and I were fighting off simultaneous strep throats because the universe hates us and neither of us has been exposed to daycare germs since we were daycare kids twenty years ago, and we ran out of chai.
In our house, this constitutes DEFCON 3 - it's definitely cause for alert, but not quite alarm (unless one of our cars breaks down and we have to go whole days without chai, in which case we definitely start sounding the sirens of imminent disaster) and it was imperative that I hit up a store for more that day on my lunch break.
Near to where I work is a little Indian grocery store. It's actually within walking distance, which is nice, since it let me pretend to be a more physically active person than I truly am. "Oh, me? Just walking to the grocery store. That's right. I walk places. On purpose."
Although, this being late May, it also wasn't 93 freaking degrees by 10 am in the sunlight. If we were to run out of chai today, I'd drive, because sunlight is bad and I seriously spend four months every year asking myself and everyone around me why I was insane enough to move to the South in the first place (then spend fall, winter, and early spring basking in 65 degree temperatures and answering my own question).
Now, the chai we normally buy is cheapo stuff from Walmart - the chai from this blog post, actually - and is one of the cheapest available at about $2 - $3 for a box of twenty tea bags. I was hoping to stay within around $5 for the new box, and thought hitting up the Indian grocery store seemed like a good idea.
When I walked into the grocery store, I found I was asked by literally every single person there if I needed help with anything today. I'm not even talking about just employees - everyone wanted to know if I needed anything. I clearly appeared to be lost.
I said no at first, content to just kind of browse around. I like to see what's available from different parts of the world - Jason and I are known for randomly bringing home gigantic bags of Japanese sesame crackers, for instance, and I have more than once bought boxes of green tea ice cream and then wondered aloud for a week why I can't seem to stop eating green tea ice cream.
Eventually, once I had started looking for the tea itself, a tiny grandmother who was pushing her cart around nearby stopped me to ask what I was looking for.
"Well, we're out of chai-" I started to reply, when she grabbed my arm in one hand and pulled me around the end of the aisle to point at the very last aisle, the one I hadn't actually made it to yet.
"What kind of chai?" She asked, waving her arm towards shelves stacked high with every form of tea you might imagine people in India had ever even dreamed about maybe considering drinking. "You like the ready-to-drink kind, the powder? You just add hot water, the milk is already in it." She was absent-mindedly patting my arm. I am not the kind of person who likes to be patted on the arm by strangers. I attempted to gently move away without her noticing. It didn't work.
"We... don't like the powder, we use looseleaf or bags."
"Ah," She said, with a smile. "You will buy this, then." She plucked a box off the shelves without even looking at it and handed it to me with the sense of a woman who is the main authority within her own life and would not be argued with.
The box she handed me was Wagh Bakri brand, a huge dark red box with a smiling woman on the top. The box said it contained 100 tea bags. The price was $6.
"Is it any good?" I asked her, a little hesitant. This was less than half of what I normally spend per tea bag for the cheap chai I buy at Walmart or Publix.
The woman patted my arm again and said reassuringly, "It's all we drink in my home. My children, my grandchildren all drink it." Her smile faded slightly and she looked suddenly very serious. "It's what you will drink, too."
She took the box out of my hands and placed it in my cart.
"You'll buy this. It's the best chai," She said it matter-of-factly. There was no room for debate.
I wished her a good day and I bought the chai.
Of course I did. The grandmother told me to.
Never mind that she isn't my grandmother.
She's somebody's grandmother.
I also bought a bag of spicy potato sticks for a snack on my way out the door. This earned a disapproving snort from the grandmother, but I could handle this tiny, somewhat teenage rebellion. I half expected her to chastise me for ruining my appetite.
Roll your eyes at the unsolicited advice if you will, but I have found it to be a simple and concrete truth in my life that when a nearby grandmother offers advice on food or drink, that they really do tend to know what they're talking about.
I've also found it's not worth arguing with them, because they're right and both of you know it and honestly it just saves everyone time.
It really is the best chai, by the way.
You should always depend on the kindness of strange grandmothers.