Shopping Cart Clue


It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and the grocery store was crowded with shoppers. Jeff and his mother stood near the end of a long line at the checkout.

Suddenly the young woman in front of them gasped. “My purse! I’ve lost it!” The baby in her shopping cart blinked and started to cry.

Jeff’s mother stepped forward. “My name’s Sara Yoder,” she said. “Maybe my son and I can help you.”

Oh, no, thought Jeff. If we lose our place in line, we’ll miss the beginning of tonight’s TV mystery.

The young woman picked up her baby and turned around. “I’m Melanie Ross.” She patted the infant and sighed. “My husband’s paycheck is in that purse.”

Jeff looked at the food in Melanie Ross’s cart. There was a turkey, a carton of milk, butter, bread, celery, and a package of cranberries. This lady’s Thanksgiving dinner is not going back on the shelves, Jeff decided. Not if I can help it.

“Mom can check the dairy case, and I’ll search the produce section and the bread aisles,” Jeff suggested. “Mrs. Ross, maybe you could check the frozen meat case.”

“Leave your carts where they are, and I’ll save your places,” the man behind them offered.

Mrs. Ross looked relieved. “Oh, thank you,” she said.

The three of them left to look for the purse. Very slowly, Jeff walked up one side of the bread aisle and down the other. He looked carefully at each shelf, but he didn’t see a misplaced purse. Then he walked to the produce section and searched just as carefully—no purse.

Jeff returned to the checkout line. Mrs. Ross and his mother were already there. Their hopeful looks disappeared when they saw that he, too, was empty-handed.

Mrs. Ross started pushing her cart out of line. “Thanks, anyway,” she told Jeff and his mother.

“Wait!” said Jeff. “There’s something else you can do.”

“What’s that?”

Jeff pointed to a small room with a window. “Try the lost and found.”

A few minutes later, Mrs. Ross returned to the checkout line, still holding the baby and nothing else.

Just then a voice came over the loud-speaker: “A red clutch purse has been lost in the store. If anyone has found it, please bring it to the lost and found office. Thank you.”

The line moved forward. Soon it was Mrs. Ross’s turn to pay for her groceries.

“Trade places with us while you wait for someone to turn your purse in,” Jeff’s mom suggested.

“Is there any chance that you left your purse at home?” Jeff asked as the carts were switched. “Or in your car?”

Mrs. Ross patted the baby, who was now sleeping on her shoulder. “I rode the bus here, so I had my purse with me then, and I remember having it when I put my baby in the cart.”

Jeff’s mother exchanged glances with him before she turned back to Mrs. Ross and offered, “I’ll drive you home.”

“You can leave your cart here,” the cashier put in kindly. “The stock boy will return the food to the shelves.”

Moments later, shuffling through the snow in the parking lot, Jeff remarked, “It doesn’t seem much like Thanksgiving, does it?”

“To me it does,” Mrs. Ross disagreed.

“How can it?” Jeff asked. “What do you have to be thankful for?”

Mrs. Ross smiled. “I’m thankful that I live in a city where strangers go out of their way to be helpful.”

Jeff opened the car door for Mrs. Ross and the baby. As Jeff climbed in, he asked, “What is a clutch purse, anyway?”

Jeff’s mother put the key in the ignition and explained, “A purse without handles.”

“Wait just a minute,” Jeff said excitedly, getting out of the car again. “I’ll be right back.” He raced toward the store. Soon afterward he came back, clutching a red purse!

“That’s it! Oh, thank you! Where did you find it?”

“In the frozen meat case,” Jeff answered. “Behind the turkeys.”

Jeff watched as Mrs. Ross opened the purse and looked through it. “But I searched there,” she said. “I didn’t see it.”

“I couldn’t see it, either,” Jeff explained. “It was too far back and way at the bottom.”

Jeff’s mother looked at him. “If you couldn’t see it, how did you know where it was?”

“Your shopping cart had a clue in it,” Jeff answered. “Let’s go get your groceries, and I’ll show you.”

The women followed him back to the store. Mrs. Ross’s cart of groceries still stood by the counter. Jeff pushed it back in line. “Watch,” he said as he took the items out of the cart one by one and put them on the conveyer belt. “It takes two hands to lift out the turkey. Everything else I can pick up with one. Since clutch purses don’t have handles, you must have set it down to pick up your turkey.”

“That’s just what I did,” Mrs. Ross admitted. “I remember now. Then my baby started crying, and I forgot all about the purse. I’m sorry that I caused all this trouble.”

“Forget it,” Jeff told her. “Not many kids get a chance to solve a grocery-store mystery.”

“We’re just glad that everything turned out all right,” Jeff’s mother said. “And we’ll still drive you home.”

Jeff looked at his wristwatch. The TV mystery was half over, and he didn’t even care anymore.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Shauna Mooney