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When I came out of the grocery store last weekend, I trundled my laden shopping cart straight toward our silver minivan, only to discover that it was not our silver minivan. It was a Honda Odyssey, and a rather filthy one at that. Our vehicle was a slightly less soiled Toyota Sienna—and it was nowhere in sight.


I was a little embarrassed at my error. After all, I had chugged up to someone else’s minivan with utter assurance that it belonged to me. I had even taken out my keys and had been trying, unsuccessfully, to get my clicker to unlock the Odyssey's doors. I stole a furtive glance about to see if any other shoppers had noticed my befuddlement. But everyone around me seemed oblivious, either tucking their necks deeper into their parkas to avoid the wind or using their gloved hands to shield their eyes from the bright sun that was glancing off windshields and cheering the day, if doing little to warm it.


Cold and annoyed with myself—I never pay attention to where I park—I swiveled my head around to see if I could spot our silver minivan. I did spy several other family vehicles of the gray variety but none that bore our license plate. And I didn’t even have one of our three children with me to blame for my distraction, since it was a Saturday afternoon and my husband was home.


We had had a couple of rough weeks of sleeping, up each night with one or more of our kids complaining of maladies ranging from coughs to earaches to bloody noses. The night before, Jane, 2, had decided she just wanted to party, from about 1:30 to 3:30 a.m. “I want to go downstairs,” she kept coming in our room and saying. “I want to play Barbies.”


Well, I didn’t. And now I had her to thank for my predicament. In my sleep-deprived state, I could not find our car—anywhere. I even pushed the week’s worth of groceries back to the top of the lot outside the Giant for a better view. While my gloved fingers froze on the cart’s metal handrail, a nervous sweat bloomed under my armpits inside my parka. I started to wonder if someone had stolen our car. I started to wonder if I was losing my mind.


Gazing out upon the frigid sea of vehicles—none of which seemed to belong to me—I recalled a harrowingly relevant anecdote from my paternal grandmother’s past. The tale as told to me by my now deceased aunt, the keeper of my father’s family lore, runs something like the following: My grandmother, finished with her shopping one afternoon, breezed back and parked her Buick in the garage. “Whose car is that, Clara?” my grandfather supposedly queried when he returned from work. Apparently, a Buick stood in the usual spot. But it was not their Buick. My grandmother had driven someone else’s car home from the store.


It seems hard to believe that there was a time when people simply left their keys in the ignition. It seems hard to believe that my grandmother would actually drive someone else's car home and not even suspect her mistake. But so it goes, and when my grandfather returned the foreign vehicle to the parking lot, he discovered my grandmother’s Buick just where she had left it.


All’s well that ends well, except not for me. I still couldn’t find our minivan. And now I was worrying I was turning into my grandmother, who although quite a hoot, was generally considered to be a bit batty—as the aforementioned story may suggest.


But then I had a gorgeous, bittersweet epiphany. I had not driven our silver Toyota Sienna minivan to the store. I had taken my husband’s car, a black Honda, instead. And there it sat, parked one row down and four cars in, right in front of me.


‘Bless you, grandma,’ I silently intoned as I hoisted the tailgate and loaded in our groceries.

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