Thankful for Trouble

Early Saturday morning, I strolled listlessly through the aisles of Target, carefully checking my written list as I went. In the back of the store, there was a display overflowing with games, many of them familiar from my childhood. I glanced over as I passed. Sorry. Yahtzee. Chutes and Ladders. Wait…Trouble!? Oh. I’d loved Trouble! I picked up the box and looked fondly at that curved plastic center dome peeking through the center of the cardboard. I could still remember the feel of pushing it down and the click-popping sound it made as it rolled the die within. That would be a great game for indoor recess, I thought. I looked around in vain for a price tag. Well, I’ll just ask when I check out, I decided. If it’s less than $10, I’ll buy it.

When I got up front, there was only one cashier working. I settled into line with my few items, already beginning to feel the sharp stress nibbles of unfinished grading and incomplete report cards. Soon, a woman, masked as I was, got into line behind me.

“Wow, only one line open,” she commented, “but at least it’s not too busy.

We commiserated and chatted about this and that–the weird state of the world, how many people weren’t masked, Covid, etc.

“I have cancer,” she commented, “but I really wear my mask to protect others. I do love our governor, but I wish she’d mandate masks.”

I noted the dark circles under her eyes, her pallor and her thin frame. My heart squeezed a bit. Trying to manage a grave illness and navigate this Covid-altered world must be incredibly stressful.

The line moved forward and I started to unload my cart onto the belt.

“Oh, that’s a fun game!” she said, pointing at Trouble.

“I know!” I replied. “I remember loving this game as a kid. I’m a teacher and I thought my students would, too. I’m not sure how much it is though, so I haven’t decided if I’m getting it or not.”

We talked a bit about schools and how they’ve been managing these days, until finally, it was my turn at the register.

“How much is this?” I asked the cashier, holding up the game.

She scanned it. “Thirteen forty-nine.”

I hesitated, remembering my $10 mental limit, designed to stop me from overspending on my classroom.

“Never mind,” I said firmly. “I’m not going to get it.”

She tucked the rejected game under the counter and began to ring up my other purchases. A few minutes later, I paid and gathered up my bags. As I turned to leave, I heard the woman behind me say, “Oh, I’ll take that,” and saw her point to the Trouble game.

Then she turned to me, “Could you wait just a minute?” She quickly slid her card through the machine, then grabbed the game from the cashier and handed it to me.

“I’d like you to have it,” she said, “For your classroom. For the children.”

“Oh,” I stammered, “Wait. What? Oh. You don’t need to do that.”

“I want to,” she smiled, pushing the game into my hands.

I held onto it tightly, stumbling over my words. “But that’s so kind of you! Wow! The kids will love it. Thank you so much! “

“No,” she replied, “Thank you for all you’re doing.”

I thanked her again, and tears burning in my eyes, turned away, deeply touched by the kindess of a stranger.