Al Batt: Thinking of dead nettle while shopping the tall shelves

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, October 4, 2022

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Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

It might have been the best day in the history of the world.

Al Batt

That hadn’t been confirmed by a meteorologist, an economist or a loudmouthed crackpot, but it was a dandy.

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I squatted like a baseball catcher while making those weird old-man sounds to marvel at the charm of the dead nettle growing in my fall yard. Each green leaf had a prominent silver stripe down the center. I thought the plant had not survived, but there it was. The dead nettle was anything but dead. The perennial mint and ground cover is called dead nettle because it lacks the bite of the stinging nettle that its leaves resemble. Stinging nettle is also called devil’s leaf, itchweed, naught man’s plaything (naught man is another name for the devil), devil’s apron, burn weed, burn nettle, sting leaf, devil’s plaything, stingweed and 7,032 other nicknames. It shares monikers with other plant species. No matter what you call them, stinging nettles give a burning itch. People have flogged painful joints with stinging nettles hoping to rid themselves of rheumatism, only to discover their insurance wouldn’t cover it. Ouch! That’s like being stoned to death by itching powder.

The dead nettle pleased me. That might not have been its goal, but I appreciated its efforts.

My wife needed a shot in the arm, so we stopped at a supermarket pharmacy where no appointment was needed to get the vaccination. While my wife was occupied with getting a shot, I planned on picking up some things before the prices went up. I pushed a cart around the big store. I prefer shopping in a nice, shady spot with a door. The traffic was heavy, but not high-speed. Some folks move through life as if they have slept on a jagged rock, but I’m not a grumbletonian. I’m happy just to be somewhere.

I headed down an aisle that had a number, but I don’t recall it. I rarely remembered my gas pump number back when I didn’t have to pay at the pump. Someone sneezed and nobody’s eyes shot him daggers. Someone else said, “Gesundheit,” which means either “Good health” or “Are you crazy sneezing where other people are breathing?” In that aisle with the number I don’t recall and the sneezing man, a woman approached me and said she had an odd request. And then all hell broke loose. Not really. This wasn’t a movie.

“Might I borrow your tallness?” she said. She needed to put a taller team on the floor. 

I knew what she wanted because I’ve collected things from tall shelves for family, friends and strangers. I’m a tall galoot and a long drink of water who has been asked, “What’s the weather like up there?” I’m taller than a dead nettle and have witnessed the miracle of my shoes becoming farther away every year. A barking knee calls that to my attention when a shoe becomes untied.

Sometimes things work out. I look for the high points each day and had no qualms about giving aid to a damsel in distress. I pulled 12 items from the tallest shelves for the woman and was happy to do so. She needed more, but the grocery store was out of some things on her shopping list, so I got off early on a technicality. She thanked me for my help, and I thanked her in return for allowing me to showcase my skills as a retriever. Good times. We are what we are and we do what we can. Small kind acts provide the kindling for a great day.

When it comes to gift-giving, I don’t carry frankincense and myrrh, nor am I a social media influencer offering potentially harmful financial or medical advice, but I do the best I’m able.

Grantland Rice wrote, “For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, he writes not that you won or lost, but how you played the game.” Rice wasn’t into sports betting.

Now is an exceptional gift. It was a sweet day. Dead nettle still played the game and I wouldn’t need to flog my aching knee with stinging nettles.

Then I discovered the things I needed were all on the lowest shelves.

Al Batt’s column appears every Wednesday in the Tribune.