Hopkins
Hopkins

Before the snowstorm predicted by pretty much every weather guru in the area, I got ready along with the rest of Seattle. Fortunately, I was able to do much of it in the early part of the day. Went to storage to look for my snow boots (no luck). Went to the hardware store for a snow shovel (sold out). Bought what was left on the shelves at Trader Joe’s and lugged it home. Checked the back of both cars for the winter boots (still no luck). Then off to the gym for a good workout and a long hot shower.

By the time I left the gym, it was full-on rush hour. Against my better judgment, knowing the crowds would be insane and feeling like I was coming down with something, I went to Fred Meyer to buy the snow boots that my fruitless search proved I needed. Apparently everyone in Seattle had decided to go straight from work to Freddie’s. The store felt like a convention hall, aisles crowded, people with tired, deer-in-the-headlights expressions pushing carts overflowing with enough stuff to last until the smoke clears next August.

If hell is the thing that causes you the most suffering, then for me hell would be Fred Meyer on a cold, dark night before a snow storm. For all eternity. I resolved to be good just in case.

I powered through and made it to the shoe section. The women’s selection offered thin boots with treacherously high heels and dainty little zippers on the side. Definitely not snow worthy. All with price tags of $70 and up.

On a whim I decided to check out the men’s section. Ta da! I had my choice of rugged, waterproof hiking boots that looked like they would last the rest of my life. Once I worked out what my size was in “men’s,” I found a pair that, while not exactly a fashion statement, did the trick for only $40. I put them down and looked to see if there were any other options. Another woman rounded the bend and we commiserated on the poor choices for women. I pointed out the ones I had found and told her they were really comfortable.

“I live on Queen Anne,” she said, “so I really need good boots.”

She tried them on, and then off she went. With my shoes.

In the split second that I could have, should have said, “Hey! I wanted those boots,” or, “I used to live on Queen Anne, so don’t give me that excuse,” or, “I live on a boat and so I need them, too,” she was gone.

I don’t know why I didn’t stop her. I am sure she didn’t realize that I had only put them down for a minute while I perused my options. To be fair, I was looking at other shoes and even tried on another pair. So… I really can see that she didn’t do it on purpose. And there was that whole “Fred Meyer eternal hell scenario,” which this selfless act might help me to avoid.

However, sadly, there were no other shoes in that size and that style. And at that price point. My head was feeling more and more congested, and I didn’t know if I had the energy to continue searching.

As I continued to ponder my choices, I overheard another woman down the aisle on the phone with her kids, asking them to go into their closets and tell her their shoe sizes so she could buy them snow boots. We got to chatting and I told her my sad story.

“Go after her!” she said. “Tell her you wanted them!”

“Too late,” I said. “I can’t do it now – it would be weird.”

I looked a bit more, and then wandered over to the women’s section for one last look. Suddenly my sympathetic friend was standing in front of me.

“Look! I found these and they are in your size and only $50,” she said, clearly thrilled.

I opened the box and the boots were even better than the ones I had let go.

I believe people come into our lives when we most need them. People who offer us bright spots in otherwise bleak moments. I had seen this woman a few times as we both wandered the aisles. We were aware of each other, smiled at each other, as happens sometimes when you notice someone and notice that they are noticing you, too. And if you are open to it, you can reap the benefits of these people who just happen into your life at the right moment.

When I began this column not a flake of snow had fallen. It was icy cold and the air smelled like snow to this trained East Coast nose of mine. There’s a quality to the air before a snowstorm. An electric feeling of anticipation. A slightly metallic smell. You can feel the cold on the outer rim of your nostrils as you breathe in. And there is a startling calm before the storm.

As I finish my column and get ready to send it in, the snow has begun in earnest. I have my boots and my Queen Anne friend has hers. But I got something else. A lovely moment with a kind woman who connected with me in a way that only happens when you are open to it.

Irene Panke Hopkins is a freelance writer and essayist. Read more at irenehopkins.com.