When I was about 11 years old, I accompanied my mother to the grocery store one day. We ran in for just a couple of things, and then stood in the checkout line behind a man who was buying only a single item:
- one small jar of Gerber baby food
It was an ordinary jar of baby food, except for a few small details.
- the jar sat on the checkout conveyor belt upside down
- the bottom of the little glass jar (now uppermost, on account of being upside down) was smashed
- the twinkly bits of broken glass were all still there
- the baby food, where you could see it through the cracks and splinters of glass, was moldy
Strangest of all, neither the man making the purchase nor the woman ringing it up, taking the man’s money, and handing him his change, said a word to each other or indicated in any way that this transaction was at all out of the ordinary. She rang, he paid, she gave him his change, and he left, carrying the jar carefully in his hand (broken end up).
Mom and I spent the rest of the day theorizing about this, and trying to outdo each other in coming up with explanations for what we had seen.
- The man was a quality control inspector from store headquarters, bringing back evidence that damaged goods were being sold in the store.
- The man was so poor he could only afford damaged items or those past their “sell by” date, so he would sneak into the store, dent cans and crack jars when no one was looking, then go back and buy them after they’d been drastically reduced in price.
- He was a jewel thief posing as a store inspector, and there were diamonds hidden in the jar.
- The man was a scientist who happened upon the broken jar as he was on his way to pick up a box of crackers, and recognized the flora within it as a rare and potentially therapeutic type of mold that he needed to study back at the lab.
- The man was a spy, and the jar had been broken by a treasonous government employee who had hidden microfilm of the secret plans in the jar, breaking it so the spy would know which jar to retrieve; clearly the checkout woman was in on the whole plot.
Our favorite theory of all?
- The man had a very bad baby.
When Second Child was very little, and First Child was in elementary school, we often had reason to drive down a road in our town on which there was a small sheep farm. The farm was bisected by a stream with a pond on it, and often the sheep, as we passed, were on the far side of the pond. We could not figure out, driving by, how they got to the side opposite that on which the sheep pen and the farmhouse stood.
So I challenged them every day to come up with a new explanation of how the sheep got across the pond. At first they told me “they swam,” or “they walked a long way to where the stream was narrow and crossed there.” Before long, however, they really got into it and began offering even better explanations:
- They sheared the sheep with the longest wool, spun it into yarn and knitted a raft on which they floated across.
- They saved all the little twigs that got stuck in their fleece, waited until they had enough, then tied them together and made a bridge across the pond.
- They waited until the farmer wasn’t home, then broke into the farmhouse, stole the farmer’s credit card number from his billing statement, used his phone to call LL Bean and order a kayak, then went back to the pasture and waited for it to be delivered.
And so on. Got a mystery in your life? A little creativity on the fly can help. Oh, and if you happen to know the answer to the baby food mystery, please let me know. Mom and I are still really worried about that baby.