In front of WalmartSo I’m walking across the parking lot past Wal-Mart, on my way home from Trader Joe’s when I hear a beep… beep… beep, beep, beep… beep, beep… At first, I’m thinking it’s a car alarm.

Some kids in the apartment complex next to mine used to have fun running through the lot slamming their fists against or shaking cars to trigger the car alarm. So, every now and then, about 9 at night there would be 5 – 10 car alarms going off. That went on for 3 or 4 months but hasn’t happened in a couple years now.

Anyway, that’s an aside, just a writer’s not-especially-clever way of letting you know he’s quite familiar with the various sounds car alarms make. There was a pattern to it just as there is a pattern to the sound a car alarm makes. The sound I was listening to was not a car alarm. It was not totally irritating. In fact, it was almost pleasant.

So I detoured a little bit to try to see what was making the noise. If it was what I thought it was, then I was pretty sure I had something I could write about. Since I’m writing you probably realize the cause of the noise was what I thought it might be.

Parked about ten cars deep in front of Wal-Mart was a blue minivan. It was parked in the shade. Three kids were inside. One, about three years old, was strapped into a car seat. The other two, about six and eight, were in the front seat. They were pounding on the car. The older of the two was beating out a tune on the horn. The younger was keeping time on the dashboard.

While I was watching a dark-haired woman in her 30’s appeared, almost running toward the car, which means she probably wanted to run, but she couldn’t because she was moderately overweight and she was carrying some bags in each hand.

I did not hang around to watch the kids get scolded because that’s what would have happened to my brothers and me.

Every Saturday morning my mother went shopping, always stopping at the grocery store, usually the drug store, and sometimes a clothing or hardware store. My father usually drove and waited in the car with us. That changed when my mother learned how to drive. I always went along, but my dad stayed home with the baby and usually the one who had previously been my little brother.

Watching over two boys while shopping was not terribly difficult. I think her primary control tactic was to give us each the opportunity to pick out our favorite cookie and our favorite cereal. If we were not good (did not cry, throw a tantrum, or something like that), then we got to see our choices put in the cabinets at home.

When my father started working on Saturday’s there was another change. Once there were two of us holding onto the basket she lost control. I blame it on the baby. He did not understand the importance of being rewarded with a favorite cookie or cereal. He wanted to be rewarded with his favorite everything. While she was dealing with him we became impatient and would wander off in search of our favorites so we could be there waiting when our mother showed up. We thought we were doing her a favor, saving her some time. We had no idea she would get upset when she finished with the baby only to find that we were no longer within sight. Two Saturdays of that were more than enough for her.

Even after she left us in the car with strict orders not to open any door, she was not finished adjusting her Saturday morning routine. She must have used some promise or threat to keep us from leaving the car because I remember listening to the baby screaming because he’d dropped one of his toys out the window, but we were all too terrified of what would happen to us if we jumped out of the car to get it. That’s when I was given permission to get out of the car, but I had to stay within the lines of the parking space.

My déjà vu incident happened before that. It was on the second Saturday of what I would have called grocery shopping exile if at age 9 I’d been able to think along such lines. The three of us were all in the front seat. Car seats existed, but they were mostly used to give a child a better view out a window. Seats to protect a child hadn’t been invented yet, so there was no legal reason to strap a three-year-old into a car seat. There was also no such thing as seat belts.

It was chilly outside, so we weren’t cold, but it didn’t take long for us to get bored. She’d been in there a long time. It felt like a couple hours or more. That’s when I discovered the car horn. First, I hit it a couple times to see if she’d come running out. Of course, I thought she’d be able to hear it and would interrupt her shopping to come out and see what was the problem with her three darling boys. All three of us sat or stood there watching the store entrance. After a few minutes passed and we didn’t see her, I tried again, more insistent this time, hitting the horn about four times. That didn’t work either, so I went to work on the horn, hitting it, again and again, creating a music of my own while my brothers pounded on the windows and dashboard.

We were having such a great time we never saw the dark-haired woman in her late 20’s hurrying toward the car as fast as she could, which means she probably wanted to run, but couldn’t because she was pushing a cart loaded with groceries.

Unfortunately that time I had to stay around to listen to the scolding.

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