I was in Kroger tonight, picking up milk and eggs and a few other things that I needed, and was fortunate enough to find a wide open register, so I didn't have to go through self-checkout like I normally do. The cashier, a woman in her sixties, rang up all my items and glanced at the total as it up. "Nineteen twenty-seven," she said, then looked over at me thoughtfully. "A very good year."
"Mmm," I nodded, since as far as I could remember the only memorable event taking place in 1927 was Babe Ruth hitting 60 homers on his way to leading one of the great Yankee teams of all time to a World Series title, and I was fairly certain that wasn't what she referring to, and I didn't want to ask "was that the year you were born?" Instead, I swiped my Kroger card, which dropped the price to $18.66.
"Eighteen sixty-six," I said conversationally. "Not a very good year." I meant, of course, that 1866 was the beginning of a long Reconstructionist period under Andrew Johnson, and not a very good time for America. Actually, what I really meant was "I feel I am socially obligated to comment on the year in relation to whatever monetary unit comes up next, and since $18.66 is the total, I guess I'm forced to stand here in this supermarket line at midnight and comment on Reconstruction." But her reaction was a little startling, as she looked me forbiddingly straight in the eye and replied "No. It wasn't. Not for us."
This sent me into a moment of quiet panic, as I realized I had somehow made a sudden miscalculation and brought up some terrible event from the past that I didn't remember. Who was "us?" What had happened in 1866? Perhaps there was some significant event I had forgotten? Or was I missing some major piece of Texas history? I stood there in silence, open-mouthed, when suddenly I was saved as the woman launched into this paragraph that I found so breathtaking I memorized it immediately:
"Yeah, 1866 with the Pony Express. What do you call it? Y'know, Paul Revere. When we threw all the tea overboard into the water because of the Queen. Because the Queen sent all the prisoners to America and Australia."
She stopped abruptly and considered this. "No, that's not right. That was back in the 1600's." We paused for a moment, together, and considered this new piece of information.
"1700's," I offered, as if I had just thought of it. She mulled this suggestion over for a moment.
"1700's," she murmured, as if tasting it. "1700's. Mmmm." Suddenly, she smiled and looked at me. "1776!"
"Hey, that's right!" I replied, as if she had unlocked some long-forgotten tidbit of information from my brain, like the guy who played Bond for one movie, or who sat behind me in 4th grade.
She smiled modestly and inclined her head. "I watch a lot of History Channel," she explained, refusing to take credit for the breakthrough. We chatted for a moment about the wonders available on the History Channel as I paid up and packed my groceries in the cart.
I started to push the cart away when the lady sighed loudly and quite longingly behind me. I stopped and turned around. She smiled at me again. "I love history," she said earnestly, clearly glad to have found a person of similar number-based mindset. Then she turned away and went back to work.
1866, by the way, is the year of the invention of root beer, and the year the urinal was patented. So if I go through a supermarket line and that number ever comes up again, I'll finally have something to say.