'Ma’am'– he asked – 'one bag..or two?'
I looked behind me hoping to hear the next-in-line respond. The next in line was an elderly man. Hardly – anyone who might be referred to as ma’am.
I looked in front of me..thinking that he must be addressing another. Before me was a young girl..a mere child. She had already moved on and out carrying with her her many bags of groceries and more.
A pause. To think. To process. To take it all in and understand. He was – of course – talking to me.
One bag.. I said. One bag..is all I need.
Just another ordinary day. An everyday passing remark. A simple question…asking for nothing more than an answer.
An abbreviation for the French title ‘madame’. Like Mrs. is to Miss..in our Anglo-American culture. …Madame is to Mademoiselle. It’s offered up out of respect and honor. It – implies ‘lady’…’gentlewoman’..on occasion even – ‘grand dame’. It may be used kindly in reference to ‘mistress and head of the household’..or not quite so kindly as a one who ‘runs and manages a brothel or house of ill-repute’. It is a word that has been adapted into our language for use when there is no other appropriate word to address. It is said politely and with much respect. No harm intended.
What happened to ‘miss’? It wasn’t so long ago that the person checking-me-out..might have addressed me as such. When did it happen that I crossed this indefinable and rather obscure line..over to the other side..and into this?? I look in the mirror and I see me. That same girl who always was..and still is inside me. I see no signs or any other visible indication that I should have entered this new world that commands this kind of attention. I am – am I not? – still that little miss? That sweet mademoiselle? That girl..and not this formidable woman?
Mistaken always – for younger than I actually am…asked for photo I.D. long beyond the age of majority – I once looked forward to this day. Reading glasses – I hoped would make me look wiser..more distinguished. A little salt and pepper and sprinkling of grey..might add dignity..grace..admiration – perhaps.
And then – there’s this.
A child..a mere boy – addressed me as ‘madame’. He sees what I cannot. What I have been steadfastly refusing to look at. He sees a woman of my age..instead of another. How DID this happen?..and WHEN??
Still – full of energy and life. My body – perhaps a little softer…..but still strong..still able. My head – still filled with childish dreams and wild imagination. My heart – still beating strongly in my chest..alive and well. It’s certainly not the picture of ‘ma’am’ I’d considered. I don’t seem like a 'ma’am' to me. I don’t feel like one. I certainly – wouldn’t mistake myself as one. Why did he???
Faded flowers. Leaves changing and falling. Full-bodied fruit..ripening. Some might mistake that as the season of ‘madame’…and no longer that of the beautiful…sweet…young…budding ‘mademoiselle’.
I gaze into that mirror and look and really see with new and more-critical eyes. This is who and where I am. I’ve earned this honorary right-of-passage and degree. From here on in – I’ll wear my new title proudly.
One bag..or two?
Two bags – I’ll say.
With my newly adopted title..I’m learning that less is often more. I can distribute the load. I can take my time. I can rest a little easier in this new place and time.
'Ma’am' I am.