“These are the best Knödel, you know.” (Knödel = Bavarian potato dumplings). I looked up from placing items on the conveyor belt. The full-figured cashier looked at me over her purple, rectangular reading glasses that needed a wipe over the smeary lenses.
“I’ve never tried them before.” I said, “I don’t know how to make Knödel, but the kids wanted them.”
She laughed. “You don’t need to do anything but open the package.”
“Oh! Are they already rolled?”
She laughed, her stomach wiggling with every heave of her upper body.
“Are they rolled?” She wiped tears from her eyes, “No, you have to form them yourself, and boil them for 20 minutes. They don’t cook alone.”
From that moment, I was in with Frau L. This may not be an perfect account of our conversation because she speaks in such a deep Bavarian accent I can only follow every second word or so. I rely on hand gestures and eye movements as cues. I’ve been meaning to ask her how long she’s worked at my corner grocery store. She’s been there the almost seven years we’ve lived in our home. I place Frau L to be in the early 60s. She analyzes customers from behind her large, squared-off glasses pushed to the end of her nose. Her pale, blue eyes crinkle in anticipation of a laugh or a good story.
After the Knödel discussion, our relationship grew. When my neighborhood grocery store offers their special items such as pots, pans, bedding, dishtowels, knives, etc., they publish a leaflet with blanks on the back to be filled in with “Loyalty Hearts”. For every ten Euros spent, one receives a “Loyalty Heart” sticker. Every special offer, Frau L lowers her voice and speaks out the side of her mouth to me,
“Are you collecting stickers?”
“Always.” I reply.
I love watching her pull way too many stickers off the roll and hand them to me in a folded parcel covered with both hands. She looks over her glasses and says,
“There’s more where those came from.”
My favorite Frau L story deals with the recycling bottles. Almost every grocery store in Bavaria has a plastic bottle recycling machine. Most are for the PET bottles, which one feeds into the mouth of the machine and the machine’s innards chew them up and spit them out in the back. After depositing the bottles, you push a button and a receipt shoots out. With this receipt the cashier either hands cash back or subtracts the amount from the grocery bill. Easy. If you remember to collect the receipts. Which most of the time I do not. I usually end up running back to the machine shouting,
“Wait! Did you find a receipt in there? It’s mine! MINE!” To the bewilderment of the Bavarian standing there. Surprisingly they don’t dish out unsolicited advice in these situations. Must be the element of surprise.
Mental note: Keep up with the freaky shouting about recycling receipts.
One morning at 7:47am I carried two bags with a total of eleven recycling PET bottles. I know it was eleven because the machine stated €2.75. PET bottles are 25 cents a piece, times eleven is €2.75. I only saw an elderly man and an older woman with a white beehive hairdo and leopard print scarf in the store. I paid particular attention to the woman because she wore what appeared to be the Frosted Brownie lipstick by Revlon that I wore all through junior high school. I considered asking her where she found the lipstick as I haven’t seen it in decades. I’m going to Google it right now to see if maybe I’m wrong. I thought so, still unavailable. We were the only three in the store, aside from the loyal grocery staff.
I completed my shopping and started placing my groceries on the conveyor belt.
“Ah! Frau L.!” I cried. “I forgot my recycling receipt in the machine!”
“Get on back there! Schnell!” She said. “I’m holding your place.”
I ran to the back of the store and of course the machine’s gaping mouth mocked me. I trudged back to the front of the store to Frau L.
“And?” she asked.
“Nothing. My fault.” I said.
She began scanning my items then leaned in and waved for me to lean in closer too.
“How much was the receipt for?” she asked.
She frowned. “I thought so. You know that woman here before you? She never has empty bottles. Today she had a receipt for just that amount.”
“Oh well, ” I said, “It’s my own fault. That was my good deed for the day. Maybe she needed it more than I.”
Frau L. paused, eyed me carefully, and began shaking with laughter. “See! That’s the way! Always positive! Good deed for the day, AMEN!”
Two young men stood in line waiting for the overhead cigarette dispenser to open. Frau L. continued hooting. “You just brought it to the point!”
I paid for the groceries and collected my purse.
“You just wait a moment.” She called over her shoulder as she shuffled to the manager’s office. “I have something for you.”
The men stamped their feet and sighed behind me.
Frau L. returned with two boxes of water glasses. “Here,” she said, handing the glasses to me. “This should make up for the receipt.”
It wasn’t about the money. I was only frustrated with myself for forgetting the receipt again. This act of kindness from Frau L. documents why I shop there. The grocery store will soon be taken over by another, larger chain. I asked her if she will continue to work there.
She shrugged, “Who knows?”
“I hope you stay, Frau L. I need you!”
It’s true. I could shop anywhere, and I do shop at other stores for particular items. But my corner store served me well. Not just by convenience, but rather the personal treatment and exchanges with Frau L. Who else offers me extra Loyalty Hearts and her personal Christmas cookie recipes? I will continue to shop there even when the store changes management. But only if this wonderful woman remains.