Loving people is an occupational hazard of loving words. If the man in the hardware store sincerely uses the word “snazzy,” I will go to his checkout line forever. If the shy intern mispronounces “behemoth,” I will become his Valkyrie, proud of any cub who reads more than he hears.
If I read the supermarket circular, I may end up with a friend for life.
You seldom feel your world alter in real-time. Eternity enters on paws too soft to crinkle the newsprint. But there he was, between Produce Pandemonium and Dairy Delight.
More accurately, there they were, all twelve ShopRite managers. Few beyond their mothers would linger over this page, but my mother and I did. I can only blame God for the gift we received.
“Mr. Buddle.” Mom pointed at the Frozen head.
“Ms. Lubbers.” I set my gaze on Canned Goods.
My mother was solemn. “Do you realize what could happen?”
Her voice was draped in velvet importance. “They could get married, producing Mr. Buddle-Lubbers.”
This sort of frippery was garden-variety for Mom and me, but something was different this time. When we stopped shaking with laughter, the world had settled like a snow globe, with one proud figure at the center.
More accurately, Eugene Buddle-Lubbers.
For the next thirty years, Eugene Buddle-Lubbers would be one of my great constants. Wars and rumors of wars have shaken the earth and my planet, but I have written Eugene Buddle-Lubbers into every story.
He appeared in my self-indulgent fiction, bald head peeking above the cabbages. He stood as a cipher in English assignments, as tortured as Hamlet and as weary as the Joads. He accompanied me to undergraduate anthropology, inserting his name as a hypothetical visitor to the Trobriand Islands.
When I entered the field of Development and began writing fundraising appeals, I addressed drafts to him, counting on Eugene to keep me honest. “Dear Friend” might drop me in the lazy bayou of hyperbole and bologna, but I couldn’t write anything to Eugene Buddle-Lubbers unless it rang true.
At some point my mother suggested I copyright him. “Wouldn’t it be tragic if someone else took him and started using him?”
It would, but it would be even more spectacular. Eugene Buddle-Lubbers was no more mine than the moonrise or the dandelions. I was not so much his creator as his evangelist.
Besides, good citizens would recognize the man’s dignity and proceed accordingly. In all my years of Buddle-Lubbering, only one miscreant had misused his name, a Dorito-scented freshman who asked if I secretly wanted to “Buddle his Lubber.” I assume the International Court of War Crimes has caught up with this reprobate.
Eugene Buddle-Lubbers has always landed safely, cabbage in each hand. Purveyor of truth, jollity and fruits of the spirit, Eugene is unfailingly good.
He manages departments and exceeds expectations. His carts are full of oversized children, pushing each other down the aisles. His stories are as many as the words that read us back to each other.
He is the flannel man who shows you how to pick a cantaloupe you won’t regret. He is the self-checkout attendant who forgets himself to listen to more than your grievance. He is the smile of recognition when you hear your name safe in a stranger’s mouth.
He is the fresh friendship that appears without warning between bustlers who thought they were just managing. He is the surprise that stalks no-name Thursdays, transformation printed on a generic label. He is the imp who makes us foolish when we glimpse a word that cracks the geode, humble letters that hint at Great Happiness.
As Development Director for a cat sanctuary, Angela Townsend bears witness to mercy for all beings. She has an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary and B.A. from Vassar College. She has lived with Type 1 diabetes for 32 years, laughs with her mother every morning, and delights in the moon. Her work has appeared or will be published in upcoming issues of Agape Review, The Amethyst Review, Braided Way, Feminine Collective, LEON Literary Review, and others. Angie loves life dearly.