I wonder what it is about grocery shopping that somehow puts life in order? I don’t think this is something I’ve ever considered before, but now in this time of COVID-19, I’m like many other people who try to be responsible and courteous citizens by avoiding public places unless absolutely necessary. The only two places we seem to venture are the home improvement box store and the grocery store – and even those trips are limited to just about once per month. Today was our day to hit both stores, so with our masks on and our lists in sanitized hands, we attacked the grocery list aisle by aisle, item by sweet item.
When I could stop at the store on my way home from work in the afternoon, it wasn’t a big deal, and I think I took it for granted. But now, walking in the store was like walking through the gates of Disneyland – or at least Six Flags or Hershey Park. It was breathtaking, and not just because I was wearing a mask. The first thing I spotted was a dozen red roses on special for $6. Other than the iris I picked last week, I haven’t allowed myself the luxury of even discount flowers. Of course I splurged, and even if they only last a couple of days, I will feel as giddy as if I’d gifted myself with a piece of jewelry or new pair of shoes.
While Dan ordered the deli meats and pored over the discount meat section – his areas of specialty, I wandered through the produce section like I’d been starved for months. There were so many choices, I didn’t know which to enjoy first. I settled on lettuce, fresh blueberries and an onion, but my gaze lingered over simple things like potatoes and celery, delighting in the vibrant orange of the carrots as if I’d just gotten back my eyesight after weeks without it. After that it was a stroll down the spirits aisle (after all, I do have my priorities in order) for a couple bottles of wine, a pass through pasta, a break for beans, and a dalliance in the dairy aisle.
When I was a child, my parents shopped at the air force base about thirty miles from our home, so we only shopped every two weeks. On Friday night before shopping Saturday, my dad would sit at the kitchen table and go through a stenographer’s notebook that had been transformed into a well-organized shopping list including and inventory of every possible grocery item we could need. The treat for us was that they would bring home at least a pound of boiled ham, and we would make submarine sandwiches for lunch, which I guess was our reward for helping unload the trunk of the turquoise Cadillac that was packed to the fins with paper grocery bags holding the treasures and staples we’d be living on for the next two weeks. If we were lucky, my brother would find a two-liter bottle of Orange Crush soda – his favorite, and I would have a bottle of Sprite to enjoy as a special gift during the next two weeks. My parents were fond of Tab, so there was always plenty of that to unload from the car and put into the refrigerator, along with so many half gallons of milk that it really was astounding.
Today, we only had a small shopping cart – the kind you take when you know you’re only getting a few staple items or are a single person who doesn’t need to take up any more space or become sad seeing your four lonely items bouncing around in a full-family-sized shopping cart. But since we haven’t shopped in a month, it was nearly full by the third aisle, and my glasses were fogging up from my cotton COVID-mask. I didn’t care. Despite a slight skirmish in the snack aisle (the last place I stopped to pick up some chips for Dan), I was having so much fun looking at all the grand and glorious groceries I’d have at my disposal for the next few weeks for preparing yummy and nutritious meals for us. I admit, my giddiness made me go overboard in a couple of places. I picked up full sized marshmallows and a box of store-brand Crispy Rice – the knockoff Rice Krispies that will be turned into homemade Rice Krispie treats for the upcoming holiday weekend, and I bought cherry pie filling that will hopefully become a tasty topping for my first attempt at making a cheesecake because up until recently, I didn’t realize you couldn’t spread cream cheese on a bagel after you’d frozen it.
By the time we checked out at Aisle Seven, I felt like I couldn’t wait to get home and lovingly unload all of our goodies and treats and feel that warmth and peace that come when you know everything is taken care of, you’re prepared for what might come, and you don’t have to run to the store for another thing for at least another week – or in this case, maybe a month. I’m not sure when it happened that a trip to the grocery became a moment of thrill for me, but I’ll accept and embrace the simplicity and humility that it signifies and hope that I continue to have that feeling of excitement every time I shop even after the world goes back to some kind of normal routine and COVID-19 is just a bad memory. I hope to always find a little glory in the grocery. Am I the only one who feels this way?