I was standing at the Macy’s counter with the sales clerk, another shopper and that shopper’s small child when the latter suddenly looked up at me.

I was standing at the Macy’s counter with the sales clerk, another shopper and that shopper’s small child when the latter suddenly looked up at me.


“Grrgghrnjh?” she said.


I glanced over at her mother who wore a sari and had a long braid down her back.


She had concluded her transaction and the sales clerk was just starting in complimenting me on my choices with the same hearty enthusiasm  doctors show  for the stitches they gave you the week before.


Then the toddler spoke again.


“Grrgghrnjh?”


I turned to her mother.


“She’s not really SAYING  something to me, is she?” I said, and waited, expecting the woman to answer in the melodious tones of a person brought up in India.


“Search me!” said the mom in the jauntiest of American accents. “What’re you saying to the lady, Peaches?”


“Grrgghrnjh!”


“’Exchange’?  Ohhh ! Hah! She’s asking you if you’re here to buy these items or to exchange them!”


“Born to be in Retail! “crowed the sales clerk, and we all laughed.


But departing the store a few minutes later, I had to chastise myself because in the space of a single minute I had nonchalantly made two entirely false assumptions.


And then I did it again the very next day.


I was making the 30-minute loop around my favorite pond in the quiet hour before dusk when a girl about 12 stepped into the walking path, together with a much older man.


Right away, the pairing felt off to me. The man had his hand on the back of the young girl’s neck and was sort of ‘steering’ her, which I didn’t like. And, she was looking up at him uncertainly.


“Who IS this guy and what’s he doing with a girl so young?” I thought, and slowed my pace to remain behind them.


He was wearing a satin baseball jacket and had short slicked-back hair. All he needed was a ducktail to look like The Fonz.


The girl chattered on and the man peered down at her. Then he dropped his hand to encircle her waist, leaned in and murmured something in her ear.


She pulled away fast. He held out his arm in a ‘come back’ gesture.


I couldn’t help it; I quickened my pace to hear what they were saying.


The girl was upset all right and the man spoke earnestly.


“It doesn’t matter what they think!” he said. “I want you to-“ 


“But Nana!” the girl countered.


“’Nana’”? I thought. “This person I took for a man was the girl’s grandmother?”


Sure enough. She finished her thought: “It doesn’t matter what the other girls think OR do. I want YOU to be kind to that new girl! You will not join the others in shunning her!”


I learned some lessons this week that remind me now of what Alan Alda once said about starting early to challenge your own assumptions. “Your assumptions are your windows on the world,” is how he put it. “Scrub them off every once in a while or the light won’t come in.”


I’m scrubbing now, boy. Am I ever.


Write Terry at terrymarotta@verizon.net or c/o Ravenscroft Press, PO Box 270, Winchester MA 01890. Go to her blog Exit Only for fresh stories every day at www.terrymarotta.wordpress.com.