Bonding at the grocery store
Special to the Daily
Going to the grocery store isn’t much fun anymore.
Every time we go grocery shopping, I keep waiting for someone to have a Grocery Store Melt Down ” something along the lines of Peter Finch in “Network,” with a price-maddened shopper hurling a bunch of vine-ripened tomatoes and hollering “I’m as mad as h*** and I’m not going to take this anymore!” in the middle of the organic produce aisle.
When I look at the prices literally going up in front of my eyes, I wonder what my Dad would have thought of all this.
My Dad always did the grocery shopping in our family, because, to my certain knowledge, my mother hasn’t set foot in a grocery store since 1972. Long into my adulthood, whenever I was in town, I would go with him ” not just to help out, but primarily to keep him company. It became a ritual, a part of our bonding in my adult life,
Going To The Store always meant getting up at the crack of dawn on Wednesday; it was not only my dad’s day off, it was also Senior Citizen Day, which meant that seniors got an extra five percent off ” a pretty big deal, in those days before supermarket savings cards. We had to get there early, because of the crowds.
Senior Citizen Day gave my Dad a chance to vent about his fellow senior citizens, who, he claimed, stood around and held their weekly Coffee Klatch in the middle of the grocery aisles, blocking traffic while they shared snapshots of their grandkids and compared notes on their prescription medicines.
The fact that he was a senior citizen himself ” and that he could barely walk ” didn’t keep my dad from threatening to mow them down in the middle of the cereal aisle if he could sufficiently rev up the buggy; it got so bad, he even plotted to get a klaxon horn and beep it throughout the store. He never actually did any of this, bless his dear heart, but he talked a good game.
Before the weekly battle of Dad versus the Coffee Klatch, we would have breakfast in the deli department and go over my mother’s grocery list, trying to decipher the rationale behind some of her more unusual requests. Substitutions were not allowed; any detour from The List would incur the Wrath of Mom.
But occasionally, when making out her list, my mother would suddenly get the idea that she might actually want to cook something. A couple of decades had passed since she had graced the kitchen for anything more than a social call, so these impulses were as fleeting as a snowflake landing on a Labrador, and we had to keep them in check.
This was in the days before cell phones, so in order to call and plead with her, Daddy and I would get to the nearest pay phone and wake her up:
Daddy: Honey, why did you put down cocoa powder, a bag of flour and confectioner’s sugar?
My Mother: Well … I thought I’d make a chocolate cake ” it sure would taste good …
Daddy: When was the last time you made a chocolate cake?
My Mother: I don’t know…
Me: (whispering to Daddy): On my seventh birthday, 28 years ago!
Daddy: Now, you know you’re not going to feel like doing anything like that!
My Mother: Yeah, I know, I really don’t feel up to it. That’s OK, then, just get something sweet. (Click!)
You have to understand, my mother doesn’t like to do anything that involves any physical activity ” and I mean ANY physical activity ” whatsoever. Her feeling is that somewhere along the way, in the vast scheme of things, she already did her part.
Nowadays, when my brother shops for my mom, he fields an average of 10 phone calls per shopping experience. The last time that Tim and I were home on vacation, we stepped in and did the shopping for her. Luckily, my husband has a talent for handling my mother:
(Cell phone rings for 12th time, Tim answers)
My Mother: Hey, I was just thinking, maybe you could get a bag of oranges.
My Mother: Yes, navel oranges.
Tim: Mom, you don’t want oranges
My Mother: Why not?
Tim: Mom. If you get oranges, that means you’ll have to get up off the sofa, go into the kitchen, open the bag, and actually peel them with your own hands. You’re not going to do all that.
My Mother: Well … yeah, I didn’t think of that. I guess you’re right, it’d be too much trouble. (Click!)
There was one wonderful period when my mother decided to live off of nothing but fat-free ice cream. This went on for about three years; we literally couldn’t persuade her to consume anything else. She only cared for one brand and two flavors, which meant that sometimes Daddy and I had to travel to two or three stores if there was a run on that particular flavor.
We stocked up every week, but it didn’t help; since it was all she ate, she consumed it by the tubful. I recall that she was especially addicted to chocolate/vanilla swirl. She would just get out her big spoon and dig in, no bowl required. We had dogs licking empty chocolate/vanilla swirl cartons all over the house.
The dogs loved grocery store day. While we unloaded the groceries, Frosty and Bosco hovered around underfoot, trying to get into position so they could filch something off the kitchen table and run. The ensuing mad chase down the hall always ended up in a noisy tug of war in my brother’s bedroom. I recall an especially tense stand-off over a box of powdered milk. The resulting artificial snowstorm was truly memorable, and took the good part of six months to clean up.
After my Dad and I got done at the store, it was time for us to treat ourselves. Daddy would take me to a little local bar called the “Hofbrau Haus” ” where, over Bloody Marys and a platter of oysters, he would tell me Things About The Family I Wasn’t Supposed To Know. Arming me with this important knowledge became a memorable part of our grocery store/bonding experience.
Tim always wonders why I enjoy going to the grocery store so much. I guess it’s because every time I go, there lingers a memory of Bloody Marys and oysters ” and, of course, the sound of my dad’s voice, cussing out the Coffee Klatch.
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