The Grocer

A Washington Ghost Story

It was a very hard time for the newly wed couple.  The Depression had hit hard, and the young husband was desperately seeking a job to support his new wife, without success.  She had no training herself, and all the entry-level jobs for which she might qualify were snatched up as soon as they opened. 

Finally, the young husband decided to use his last few dollars to travel to Seattle and look for work.  His wife did not like this idea at all, but said nothing in protest — even though she had just learned that she carried their first child.  There were no jobs in eastern Washington, so what else could her husband do?  She didn’t tell him about the baby.  That would be more pressure than he could bear.  She just hugged him goodbye, and nodded tearfully when he told her he’d arranged a line of credit with the local grocer so she would be adequately fed and sheltered while he was gone. 

The young wife hated buying on credit, but the old man who owned the grocery was very kind and did not mention the growing debt to her.  Instead, they chatted about local events and the weather.  She learned from her neighbors that he was supporting several needy families in this way, which made her feel a little better about the situation.

The days were long and empty for the young wife.  She kept the tiny house spotless, but  she was increasingly ill from her pregnancy, so she mostly stayed home.  After two months, she reached the limit of the credit her husband had procured for her.  Feeling wretchedly ill and too proud to beg the grocer to exceed her line of credit, she ecked out her meager supplies until she had nothing left, not even fuel for the stove.  By then, she was so depressed and weak from hunger that she huddled under the bedcovers for warmth and stayed there as much as possible to keep from freezing to death.   

Several miserable days had passed in this manner when she heard a knock at her front door.  She was weak from hunger and shivering with cold, but she got out of bed anyway and shuffled to the front door.  When she opened it, no one there.  But on the stoop were two boxes full of groceries and enough fuel to last for the next month. 

She fell to her knees, overwhelmed by such a gesture.  Her husband must have gotten word to the grocer that he had enough money to extend their credit.  And – bless the man — the grocer had delivered supplies right to her door.  With shaking hands, the young wife pulled the heavy boxes into the cold house, and had her first meal in days sitting on the floor by the front door. 

She was very careful with the fuel and food, for winter was upon them and she had to make it last until her husband returned.  But no matter how little she ate, the supplies dwindled too quickly, until she had eaten every last morsel and the fuel was gone.  She would have to go to the grocer in the morning and see if there was any more credit, she decided after her last meal. 

That night, she was seized by a great pain.  Within a few minutes, she had lost the baby, and lay ill in bed for several days afterward, unable to move further than their tiny bathroom which stood right beside the bedroom.  She was weak with pain and hunger, and miserable in spirit when she heard a rat-a-tat-tat on the front door.  She propped herself up against the pillows weakly, her heart springing up with hope.  Was it her husband?  No, he wouldn’t knock.  But the grocer would!

Wearily, she dragged herself to the door on hands and knees.  She feebly pulled herself upright on the doorknob, ashamed to appear before her visitor in such a bedraggled state but unable to do anything about it.  She opened the door.  Again, no one was there.  But the expected supplies were on the stoop.  She cried with relief as she pulled them inside the door and shut it against the cold.  Bless the grocer.  Bless him and her husband who was providing for her from afar.  

Soon, the house was warm and she was feeling better.  The food helped her body heal from the lost pregnancy, and within a couple of weeks, she was ready to venture out of doors.  She was determined to go to the grocery store and thank the proprietor who had delivered to her door when she needed food so desperately. 

Donning her hat and best dress, she walked out into the fresh air of early spring and made her way slowly toward the local grocery store.   To her complete astonishment, she found the shop locked and the windows papered over.  The store was closed, and had obviously been closed for some time.  A woman passing by asked the young wife if she needed help.  The young wife turned to her in some distressed and asked her about the grocer. 

"Didn’t you know?" the woman replied.  "The proprieter of our local grocery died just before the New Year.  We’ve got to go all the way into downtown Spokane now to get supplies."

The young wife blanched and swayed when she heard this news.  The woman, alarmed, asked if anything was wrong.  The young wife shook her head, thanked the woman for the information, and slowly began the walk home.  The delivered groceries had come from this store.  She had recognized the boxes they were delivered in.  And no one else in the area knew she was in distressed circumstances — indeed, she had no friends or family to turn to in the area.  So who had delivered the groceries to her? 

But she knew already by the prickling sensation along her arms and the back of her neck.  There was only one person who could have known that she was quietly starving to death in her little house.  The dead grocer.  And by some miracle, he had kept faith with her and her husband, delivering groceries to his starving wife long after he himself had passed away. 

A few days later, the husband returned without money, but with seeds enough to start a garden.  By the time the grocer’s final gift had been used up, they had food coming in from their garden, and the husband had found part-time work enough to help them through the rest of the Depression. 

But the young wife knew she would never have survived if it hadn’t been for the generousity of the phantom grocer of Spokane.