The chain-links clanked noisily dragging out of the rusty grocery cart. Ellen Dubois clumsily passed the fetter around a pole supporting the red roof of Tammy’s Food Pantry and around the handle-bar of her buggy. Digging a padlock from one of many bags she snapped it through two links, securing everything she owned to the post. Grasping her sturdy tree-limb cane she turned toward the entrance.
“Is that Crazy Ellie?” Krystal asked Tammy, the store’s founder, shuddering. The derelict with long grey hair was hobbling towards the door in untied lace-up work boots, wearing a raggedy dress overlaid with two sports jackets.
“No, Crystal. That is Ellen Dubois. Show respect.”
“Yes, Mam. It’s just --- look at that scar on her cheek. She’s missing part of her nose. Oh, my! A good bath wouldn’t hurt her a bit.”
“Come in, Ellen” said Tammy, holding the door open.
Ellen Dubois trudged in, her cane thumping. Head down, she grasped the handles of a small basket and moved toward the canned goods aisle. There was no mumbled “Thank you,” not even a grunt.
“Does she ever speak?”
“Very seldom. Pull up her account. She won’t take more than we allow – she never does. Be ready to scan her selections.”
“Some of those items donated yesterday came from gift baskets. I put them on the shelves. She can have three canned vegetables and three canned meats, right?”
“You’re a quick learner. And three boxes of pasta and …”
A screech or a sound of some kind startled them. Ellen Dubois, following her bobbing upraised fist, shuffled toward them. A blue tin was clutched in her hand.
“Caviar! I’ve got to have this. I’ve got …”
“Of, course you can” Tammy said. “It’s a canned meat.”
“I had caviar, once” Ellen said, the trace of a smile scooting across her lips. “It was in Paris on my honeymoon. Oh, the memories ….”
“Oh, wow” Krystal exclaimed. “You lived in France?
Mrs. Dubois covered her nose with a hand. “Robert and I fell in love at the University of Texas. I was a country girl from Dime Box. Coming home from Paris our plane crashed taking off.” Ellen swiped tears trickling down her leathery cheeks with a pudgy hand. “Robert is buried in France. I almost was.”
“Get me some crackers, girl. I’m gonna sit on the river bank and have me a picnic. I just know the smell and flavor is going to remind me of the best week of my life. It started with a church wed...” Yanking her hand from her nose to her mouth, Ellen ducked her head, a wild expression in her eyes before she looked down. She pushed her selections to Krystal for scanning, grabbed them and scurried away.
Over the next several months Krystal and Tammy often talked about Ellen. Occasionally they saw her shuffling down a street behind her cart. But she did not return to the store. They couldn’t imagine Ellen living in shelters or under bridges by choice. Didn’t she have a family? Why weren’t they helping her?
“Tammy, I saw her!” Krystal exclaimed, bursting into the store on a Monday morning. “I saw Ellen. You won’t believe it.” Krystal shrugged her jacket off and threw it at the coat tree. “Last night I went to the Christmas pageant at the park. After the Wise Men placed their gifts before the manger, they stepped aside. While the choir was singing, Ellen hobbled out of the shrubbery into the spotlight before the manger.
“She sank to her knees wearing a faded-red Texas Rangers jacket over purple corduroy pants, laid her cane down and touched her forehead to the ground, just like the Wise Men. Then she stumbled away into the dark.”
“Oh, my!” Tammy sprayed the check-out counter with disinfectant and wiped it away with a cloth. “I’ll bet the crowd was speechless. Ignorant people call her Crazy Ellie or the Bag Lady. We know better, don’t we?”
“Tammy, when Ellen got up there was another gift in front of the manager. It wasn’t gold or frankincense or myrrh. It was that blue tin of Caviar – unopened.”
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