Missing Ingredients, Common Bonds, and Finding Joy in the Dollar General…

I’m always writing in my head. Always.

Almost every thought I have is written in prose, and within each thought I am constantly searching for connections between the current thought, and other thoughts I’ve had. With those seemingly unalike thoughts, I search for ways to tie them together…Confusing, right? You ought to live in my brain!

I have been writing a blog consistently for two-and-a-half years. As I look back on these posts, I definitely see my writing evolving (good and bad). What jumps out at me the most is the way I have changed the “titles” of my blogs.

These days, I consistently tie three or more unlike things together. I’m not sure how this started, and since I’ve been pondering this writing habit, I have noticed that a couple of television shows I watch do this as well. So, was it an original act on my part, or was I subliminally influenced by TV sitcoms?

I do know it wasn’t something I intentionally came up with. I think it has been a result of many things, but I can’t help but attribute this to how the Lord is continually working in my life. Over these last few years, I’ve been given the ability to see, understand, and dissect things through my writing.

Whenever I can’t understand why certain things happen, or I’m seeking clarification, I write. And the result is usually de-coded in a list of three or four things that I have dealt with in the previous week.

Although the origin isn’t clear, this has become a weekly challenge, and honestly a very effective tool whenever I can’t think of anything to write about. It’s the antidote to the “blank page blues.”

Years ago, we sold our house, and were waiting to move into our new home. During this season of my life, the time it took to drive to work was increased from three minutes to fifteen minutes. Every day, without fail, the radio station I listened to played a game called “Common Bond.” Three unlike words would be given, and it was the listener’s job to call in and give the common bond.

The boys and I loved this time, as we always tried to come up with the correct answer. This also was the basis for a morning challenge that I gave my students, as I would write that morning’s common bond question on the board and see who could answer it (it was an “easy listening” station, so there was no worry that my high school students would be tuned in).

Here’s an example of a common bond:

fever, O’Hara, letter

The correct answer is scarlet(t)

During this week’s mind Olympics, I was reminded of the radio game Common Bond, and believe it had to be an early influence on this somewhat exhausting way of coming up with a catchy, thought-provoking title.

In addition to my writing mind, and common bond thoughts, I also take screenshots of quotes that I like. Ones that always help me make sense of things going on in my life or around me.

It was my original plan for this blog to be a compilation of those quotes. I was struggling to find a topic or connection to the happenings of the week, and honestly, this was going to be my easy way out.

But as things usually go, my plans were changed. Who knew it would be from a lovely experience in the Dollar General? (which prior to this visit, would be considered an oxymoron).

Now, let me backtrack a bit.

This past week has been irritating, to say the least. As I re-tell the events, please don’t think I’m complaining. I’m not. I’m just stating facts.

It all began when I woke up feeling bad. Headache, severe sore throat, body aches, congestion, chills, but no fever. I was aware that I had probably been exposed to COVID at work and decided I should probably take a test to see if that was what ailed me.

While this might seem like an easy feat, finding a “rapid” test was almost impossible. As my husband drove me around Tyler, in what could only be billed as an episode from “Driving Mrs. Crazy,” we became frustrated at every stop and turn.

Feeling desperate, I went into an Urgent Care and put my name on a list. After some very unclear instructions, I was told that the wait time was four hours, and I should return then. Since it was 12:30 p.m., I repeated what the receptionist said, “So, I should return at 4:30.”

She replied sharply (and I didn’t take it personally because I know everyone in the healthcare industry is completely exhausted from the last two years), “Well if you don’t want to lose your turn in line, you better get here by 4:00—at least an hour before your appointment time.”

I had never been given an appointment time, so I timidly asked, “What time is that?”

It was 5:40.

And thus began the irritation. You see, we don’t live in Tyler. We live about twelve miles east. But the drive time when you factor in traffic makes it a twenty-to-thirty-minute ordeal. I clearly didn’t want to sit in the Urgent Care for hours. I knew in that scenario, if I didn’t have the virus when I entered, I would have caught it by the time of my appointment (which was five hours and ten minutes later).

I didn’t realize how bad I felt until I began thinking about the course my day was about to take. My husband (driver), decided to try one more place where he had been tested last year.

Our luck changed, and I was quickly ushered in and swabbed up to my brain for COVID cooties. The drawback was that it wasn’t a rapid test, and I was told it might take 2-4 days for my results. Since it was Friday, and I had Monday off, I felt like I would have an answer before I had to return (or not return) to work on Tuesday.

I was happy and thankful that I had the test under my belt, and celebrated with a stop at the grocery store, where I picked up a package of gluten-free chocolate mint cookies (taste just like the Girl Scout kind). Go ahead and judge me. Those cookies didn’t stand a chance, and they made me feel better. Apparently, I wasn’t suffering from “loss of taste.”

We had just returned home, and I had just devoured two cookies, when out-of-the-blue, my brother Greg appeared at my door! Due to all of the family obligations on both sides, we hadn’t seen him during the holidays, and this was a most unexpected, and joyous surprise (it even made my Joy Jar!)

We ended up visiting for several hours (and yes, I did tell him I had been tested for COVID and wore a mask while sitting across the room).

After he left, I realized that this was one of those “divine appointments” my friend Carol spoke of just weeks before. What if my husband hadn’t tried “just one more place”? What if I had kept my appointment? Things always happen for a reason, and while I questioned my judgment in taking a PCR test rather than a rapid one, I realized had I opted to return to the Urgent Care, I wouldn’t have been able to spend precious time with my brother.

As bad as I felt on Friday, Saturday was double-dog bad. I might lie on the couch and watch TV when I don’t feel well, but I RARELY stay in bed. But on Saturday, I did just that.

I received results on Monday which stated “COVID was not detected.” This came with an email from the nurse who said there was a 20% false negative rate, and if I had symptoms (and all the ones I had were listed) I should treat it as if I had a positive result. I have heard that it has taken several tests for many people to know that they had the virus. I feel that I tested too early.

I ended up missing work all week (I work three days), and finally, on Thursday I felt as if I had turned the corner. I needed to get my car inspected, and also go to the store. I hadn’t left the house in five days, so it was nice to get out, except it was really cold.

While at the store, I picked up the ingredients for chili. It sounded like the perfect meal for a wintry and dreary day. As I crossed things off the list, I was almost salivating at the thought of a real meal, as I hadn’t eaten much except for some random things like cookies, and GF chicken nuggets—(not at the same time).

It dawned on me while I was driving home that I didn’t get any tomato sauce, a must-have ingredient for my mom’s homemade chili recipe. I was far enough down the road that I wasn’t close to any grocery store. And I didn’t want to turn around and go back. I was trying not to be mad, upset, disappointed, or irritated. But it seemed the chili might have to wait for another day. The only option left at this point was the Dollar General.

Before you think that I think I’m Miss Fancy Pants and can’t shop at the Dollar General, give me a chance to explain. It’s not Dollar Stores in general, but this one in particular. I rarely make declarations about NOT shopping somewhere, but I had done just that with this place.

The manager of this store was grumpy. Like the mean kind of grumpy. She “hummphed” and “snorted” and even “rolled her eyes” at customers. She seemed to HATE her job and to be honest, scared me a little.

I usually give people a “pass” if they are rude one time, but when it’s a chronic thing, I tend to make the decision to avoid them.

But I wanted CHILI. It was cold, and I hadn’t had a good meal for a week. And there is nothing better than Mom’s “Do Your Own Thing” Chili recipe. Nothing.

After going back and forth in my mind, and debating this for a ridiculous amount of time, I clicked my left blinker on, and pulled into the Dollar General. As I entered, my fears were confirmed, and the manager was behind the counter.

It had been almost two years since my encounter with her grumpiness. But it seemed as fresh and real as if it had just happened.

It was March 2020. The actual morning before the afternoon where we were told the nation would be “shut-down” for COVID. Yes, there had been rumblings. And we felt like it was coming. And that’s why I ran to the Dollar Store. It was the closest to my house (10 miles away). My daughter-in-law Kaitlyn was supposed to have a baby shower the following Sunday. The hostesses wisely decided to cancel. We were left with many gifts that had been sent to my house. And we needed to get all of this to San Antonio in the next few weeks, since her due date was approaching.

Our original plans for Spring Break were to go to the Conference basketball tournament in Katy to watch the SFA Lumberjacks. Since our son was on staff there, we had a head’s up that the tournament had been cancelled. We changed our plans to go to San Antonio and take the baby stuff to our son and daughter-in-law.

All of these decisions landed me in the Dollar Store—-I needed plastic tubs to pack all the smaller items in.

I realize that for some, this might not be an item that should be bought before you shut-down for a Pandemic, but again, we had no idea what was in store. People were talking about getting necessities, and for us, these bins were just that.

I gathered up several large plastic tubs, and while I was struggling to carry them to the checkout counter, I passed the manager, who made eye contact with me, rolled her eyes and said, “Uuuuuuuhhhhhhh.” It was a grunt of disapproval. At first I thought I had misunderstood, but when I checked out, it was confirmed. She growled again, and said nothing other than, “hummmphhhh.” It’s one of those “you-had-to-be-there” sort of things, but clearly, she meant to make me feel as if I was buying something extravagant at an inappropriate time.

I’m hoping I’ve painted a picture that helps you understand my reluctance at returning to this store, and why I had made a personal vow to never, ever enter the doors to this establishment. A vow that was reaffirmed each time I drove past the store, and saw the manager standing outside, smoking a cigarette, jeering at the world.

I reflected on this experience as I put the car in park and reluctantly entered the store.

Now this part might sound a little uppity, but I’m not really well versed on what food staples are available in Dollar Stores. As I perused the aisles for tomato sauce, I was about to give up. I finally spotted jars of Ragu and Hunts spaghetti sauces, as well as an off-brand can of plain tomato sauce. I trusted the Ragu more than the others, and while it’s a little unorthodox for my chili recipe, I didn’t feel like it would be a deal breaker.

On my way to the cashier, I grabbed a bag of tortilla chips. It made me feel a little more confident in my effort to hide my desperation and need for tomato sauce. I certainly didn’t want to give this unpleasant woman the feeling that she was doing me a favor by supplying this must-have ingredient.

I quietly laid the items on the counter, and mumbled, “Good morning” and waited for her grunt or taciturn response.

As she picked up the first item, she said, “You must have a kid who goes to A&M.”

In addition to being rendered speechless, I was unclear as to what caused her to make this statement. Out of habit, I nervously tucked my hair behind my ears, and straightened my cap—the A&M cap I was wearing. It took a second, but then it hit me. I looked like a walking advertisement for Aggieland. The cap, a t-shirt, and a jacket, all with the A&M logo.

Instead of going into the lengthy legacy and family tradition of Aggies, I simply answered, “Yes, both my boys graduated from there.”

She responded, “I’d be proud too. That’s a great school.”

Again, feeling like less was more, I said, “We were so fortunate and blessed that we could send them there.”

She agreed, and then said, “Yeah, it’s important to get an education. You know, I had a girl who has an associate’s degree apply for a job here. She’s going to make $10.75 an hour, and she has a degree.”

I replied, “She must be a hard worker. She’s probably looking at moving up and one day becoming a manager.”
Her response, “Yeah. She could do that after a year of work since she has a degree.”

She bagged my goods, and I said in the most heartfelt, dramatic, and apologetic way, “Have a great day.”

As I walked to the car, I felt ashamed. Ashamed that I had spent so much time harboring ill feelings toward someone I didn’t know at all. I had probably overthought and over-imagined the meaning behind her grunt two years prior. In my mind I had built it up to her equating me with Marie Antoinette’s “Let them eat cake,” moment. As the uncertainty of our lives unfolded before us in March of 2020, I was buying plastic tubs. Maybe that was inappropriate.

Or maybe, like me, she was scared, and that’s how she expressed it. Whatever the reason, my two-year-long-grudge had been an inappropriate response to her brief, and possibly misunderstood expression.

As I got in the car, I quietly whispered, “Thank you, God.” This, indeed, was another divine appointment. It was a reminder to not judge others—after all, everyone is fighting some kind of battle. In a week filled with congestion, and headaches, and worry, and waiting on a test result, this encounter surprisingly proved to be a bright spot.

I laughed when I realized it probably never crossed her mind that I had gone to A&M. In my defense, it was my first post-COVID outing, and I looked like a luke-warm mess. But in my review of this exchange, I realized that she’s probably a mom, and she saw me as a mother. And it was on that level that we would connect. That was our common bond.

And with a mama’s heart, I realized that she was more like me than she was different, and I was once again reminded of all the “angels” God puts in our paths. People who remind us that in the midst of all the frustrations, irritations, sickness, and uncertainty, God is in control, and He has a plan.

It was during a trip to the Dollar Store that I was also reminded we shouldn’t wait to mend fences, spend time with family, or be kind to strangers. We never know how much time we have:


So, in a week of unexpected visitors, confusing test results, and missing ingredients, I have once again been blessed beyond measure. I found common ground with a sweet soul and now, the store on Hwy 64 with the woman who reached out and met me in the middle will be one of my frequent stops.

In addition to God’s grace and mercy, I’m thankful for tomato sauce, PCR tests, and God’s timing—-had things worked out differently this week, I would have missed out on a surprise meeting with a family member and the healing powers of a trip to the Dollar General.

I wonder if they sell Joy-in-a-Jar there?



Recent Posts