Jordan in Produce asked me out on a date.
His invitation was a cherished high point in my time as morning cashier for our natural-foods grocery, where each day I’d show up half an hour early to learn the produce and how much it cost. Then I could ring up merchandise from memory instead of flipping through the price binder while the upscale customers fumed at me to hurry.
The produce aisle is where Jordan first noticed me. Soon he started telling how he chose and grew vegetables, citing research from his education at agricultural college. I was all avid ears and admiration; Jordan was living my secret dream of life on a family farm. Meanwhile, our co-workers noticed the two of us in rapt discussion in the break room. They decided that he and I shared a family resemblance: tall, fair, with red-brown curly hair and blue eyes. By then he and I were swapping mannerisms as well, being soft-spoken and attentive with a slow but ready smile. Soon, team members were calling out “Mary! Your cousin needs labels for the produce scale,” or “Jordie! Your sister needs you to tote bags to some lady’s car.” When they heard of our picnic plan, they said “The Twinsters on a date? How cute is that! Oh wait — is that legal?”
All that week, my spirits soared in anticipation of our outing. I resolved to make it a great day for Jordan. I figured that on a picnic a man would expect a healthy ample smorgasbord of home cooking, as a courtship display to show how a girl will treat him once they are married. For most of the night before, I cooked and packed enough food for six people, so that Jordan could choose the foods he liked best. The forecast called for rain, so for our uphill hike to the picnic grounds I chose a no-nonsense heavy lumberjack shirt; sole-slappy sneakers that would look no worse soaking wet; voluminous combat “gas attack” army trousers with drawstring; vinyl chaps tied at the thigh; and to conceal it all, a long hooded capelike slicker. To save Jordan the effort of getting out of his car, I stood outside under the eaves half an hour in advance, holding our food. By then the rain was an Atlantic northeaster with high winds. When my punctual escort drove up on time, I was soaked to the skin. In the plastic satchel, the multiple paper wrappings were so sodden that I feared we’d be foraging our chicken legs off the floor of his car.
“Would you stop at Unity Church?” I asked. “I have Tupperware left there from a potluck. I’ll run in for it, then repack all this.”
“Church?” Jordan checked his rearview mirror, signaled right, pulled over, downshifted, braked, and turned to me with unease and regret in those blue eyes. “I… don’t do church.”
“Oh no, they won’t have services today,” I explained. “Saturday is just Course in Miracles book club upstairs. I’ll duck into the basement, and grab my containers.”
“But… no, you see… I… I really don’t do church,” he repeated. “At all. No church.”
“Sure. You can stay put here. I’ll just be a sec,” I promised.
At the parking lot, we saw that Course in Miracles Club had a remarkable turnout. Cars were everywhere. We had to park a block away for my dash in the driving rain. Tense yet still chivalrous, Jordan accompanied me to the dark basement. With fogged rain-sluicing eyeglasses and sopping hair, I groped through the meeting rooms to the kitchen and grabbed my jumbo punchbowl piled high with plastic containers.
A side door opened. Lights clicked on. A child six years old or so peered in, looking intently at Jordan, at me, at Jordan, at me. “Excuse me. Are you both…” The sight of us perplexed him. “Are you two relatives?”
No wonder this observant African-American child thought two tall lanky auburn/blue Whites might just be related; our team certainly did. If this had been a grownup, I’d have said “Nah, we’re just people picking up our Tupperware. Enjoy your book group! Bye!” But because every young person deserves respectful validation, I said “People often ask us that. We do look like relatives, don’t we?”
“Elijah!” A young African-American man looked in the door. “The young lady just told you that she and the gentleman are relatives. Who are we, to ask questions?”
“Yes, Dada.” Elijah turned to me. “Miss, I’ll show you the way; you can come with me.”
“Thank you!” Relieved to follow Elijah’s short cut, I rushed up the dark stairs. I was so eager to start our big date that I did not wonder why these members wore matching black suits and black ties with black polished shoes just for a New Age book club.
Elijah held the door. While stepping through I turned back to smile and nod at him. Then, still mopping my hair out of my eyes, I faced front and saw a coffin. The coffin proceeded step by step straight toward Jordan and me, borne up by pallbearers.
Clearly, our guide Elijah, reprimanded for asking whether Jordan and I were related to him, had ushered us to the sanctuary for family seating — front and center, facing the congregation.
The pews were packed. Everyone looked resplendent, in suits and dresses, gloves, scarves, pearls, pocket watches, brooches, corsages, dotted veils, and trimmed hats. Not so the two storm-tossed Caucasians. The hapless sidekick had turned whiter than usual as he plastered his back to the wall. The Clem Kaddidlehopper minstrel figure stood frozen, punchbowl in arms. To stop drenching the carpet I struggled out of my slicker, then recalled too late that the poncho was a vast improvement over the rest of my getup.
One of the gentlemen seated by the podium rose, and with kind hands on my shoulders gave me his own seat. He stepped to the microphone and opened a profound prayer of blessing on the assembly and his parishioner. He raised a touching tribute to the courage and sweetness and humor of this loved one and her wonderful influence on generations of family. Then other congregation members began standing to contribute their own recollections of their beloved matriarch, their Granamere. They told stories of gratitude and sorrow and joy.
At the edge of the minister’s seat I waited on tenterhooks, begging God for help in easing us out of here and leaving this family in peace. But meanwhile, with their testimony the open hearts of Granamere’s children opened my own heart. They tapped in to the loss of my two grandmothers years before. In this sacred space, a state of true mourning set in, moving me to copious tears.
“And now, Dear Family and Friends.” The minister turned to Jordan and me. “See how this young couple came to pay their respects. What a gift! Sister, come up here. Tell us how you met Granamere, and your memories.”
At that I wept so hard that I could no longer breathe, let alone share anything coherent about anyone. With Jordan hard at my heels I bowed to all, and ran sobbing out the door.
In the car, on our drive to the park, Jordan and I watched the road in delicate restrained stillness. His silence looked like inert shock. My silence was remorse. My sensitive companion had trusted me to understand that he did not do church — yet was dragged in to needless distress by my buffoon-caliber foolishness. His tactful restraint, with no word of reproach, should have earned a retroactive merit badge for the Eagle Scout sash he’d earned back in school.
We hiked up to the park shelter and shivered in a gale force horizontal rain, eating a cold drumstick apiece. We squelched back to the car for the trip to my group house. After a chastened and subdued parting I waved goodbye with the sinking sense that Jordan might never ask me out again.
Next day, our store manager invited me to turn in my apron and try some other career. Jordan joined a self-awareness training program called The Forum, and moved off to new friends and new interests.
Tonight an online search by his real name and hometown and alma mater turned up no trace of him at all. All I know of Jordan now is that after me, his dating life could have gone nowhere but up. My better-looking Doppelganger deserved happier times with the right person.
To the family from Unity Church: I am so sorry for disrupting your beautiful memorial. Your mercy toward me was a splendid tribute to your Granamere. To this day, in customer service work, it inspires me with patience when distraught implausible people burst across my path from the northeasters of life.
And you, Granamere: God grant we meet one day. Bright Memory to you!