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On The Origins of My Love For Grocery Shopping...

Am I the only one in this world who enjoys grocery shopping?

WARNING: Extremely long remembrance of grocery shopping ahead!!!

I fondly remember grocery shopping with my mom and sister when I was younger. As I recall, we’d saddle up the car right after Scooby Doo was over at 3:30. That way, with the 2 hour average shopping time, we’d arrive home around 5:30. My dad usually arrived home around 5:15, which allowed all of us to participate in unpacking.

We had a big box of coupons in an accordion index card file. My job was to make sure I grabbed the coupon file and manage it on the way over to the grocery store. Invariably, my mom would have a stack of coupons that needed to be sorted and filed - I’d do that job as I pushed the cart through the store.

My sister was often a runner; getting things off bottom shelves and helping my mom grab multiple items at a time. After a while, she’d get tired. She’d hang off the front of the cart while I pushed it around and my mom gave us that eye which told us to stop goofing around.

We would wind our way around the store, up and down every aisle. As we picked up items, I would scan through the coupon file looking for a match. I might also suggest particular brands that we had coupons for instead of the brand we had picked.

There would be three highlights to the trip, as far as we wee little ones were concerned:

  1. The Cookie Aisle
    As long as we had a coupon, we could each get a package of whatever cookies we wanted. Sometimes, even if we didn’t have a coupon, an appeal the great and all-powerful mom would grant an override and we’d get to keep out choice.
  2. The Cereal Aisle
    Once again, coupon research was ideal before entering this aisle. We could choose any cereal we wanted, although the same coupon rule applied. Usually in this aisle, overrides were rare. However, this aisle was the home of the promotional toy. A blessing to children across the land who were otherwise unable to distinguish between Fruit Island cereal and Trix. (At the time, Trix was still spherically shaped…whereas Fruit Island cereal, while having the same taste, had its pellets shaped into fruit) We would sometimes spend 10 minutes or more in this aisle trying to figure out the exact cereal (and prize) we wanted.
  3. The Prize Machines
    After checkout, there were these handy machines right at child height that would snarl unprepared shoppers and their kids into a trap of pure quarter-driven delight. Most of the time there was one machine dedicated to superballs, one machine for M.U.S.C.L.E characters, another for costume jewelry and then a few more which various “visiting” items. Each would take one or two quarters and you’d come away with some great surprise. This was the final reward for a hard day’s work.

Moving back one step, checkout was always special as well. My mom would pick her preferred lane (she seemed to have some kind of internal mommy-sense which would pick out the perfect lane with the most experienced checkout professional) and we’d slide that little breaker bar in between our groceries and the next shopper’s haul. My job would be to proceed down to the end of the checkout lane and start preparing empty paper bags. My sister would run off to the prize machines and start eyeing up her choice. My mom would start unpacking.

My mom always knew exactly how to unpack the cart. As the first few items came rolling down the conveyor, I’d begin to plot my packing strategy. I’d load up the bags one by one - as I filled up bags, a small line of them would form out from the loading area. After my mom was done writing out the check, she’d roll the cart down and start loading the bags. It was often a race to see if I’d be done bagging or she would be done loading first.

We’d stop and get our prizes out of the prize machine, then roll the cart out to the car and head home.

I prbly shouldn’t oversimplify that last step. For many years, my mom’s transportation was a 1970’s baby blue VW bug. Before that, it was a late 1960’s MG. Neither had much space for we humans, let alone all the groceries. I remember more than a few trips that were made with the entire back seat filled with groceries, my sister on my lap, food all around us near our feet and my sister holding the milk or something on her lap. Somehow, we always managed to get home, where my dad was waiting to help us unload.

Because I packed, I’d always grab the ice cream grocery bags and bring them in with me. My sister would usually grab a 12 pack of soda or something that we’d use to prop open the door. After the initial trip, the grocery equivalent of a sandbag line would start. All four of us would take a leg of the trip. Often times my sister took the last leg, since she could drag the heavy bags from the top of the stairs to the kitchen. I took the front door to the stairs, while my mom and dad would combine their efforts to long haul the bags from the vehicle to the front door to keep the machinery busy inside.

Once all the bags had been delivered to the kitchen, we’d furthermore split the load by becoming cogs in a giant grocery unpacking machine. I would station myself at the cereal/chip cabinet (on the floor, out of the way, but due to the number of cereal boxes it usually required special attention to stow the newly purchased cereal). My sister would take care of the toiletries, delivering them to the bathrooms. My dad would usually go slip into “home” clothes at this point, but eventually would come back out and work on the freezer. My mom was the main driver of the process, unpacking most of the bags and delivering the items to the appropriate sub-unit. Eventually, as we got older, I took over the work of packing the canned items away in their cupboard after finishing the cereal, allowing my mom to concentrate on the dispatch work completely.

So why do I still love grocery shopping so much to this very day?

I think it was the way that my family always came together to turn it from an unpleasant, grueling experience into a fun activity. Like so many other things in life - by coming together, we can turn almost any situation around. All we need is support from those we trust and love, be it family or friends, and a dire situation suddenly doesn’t seem all that bad anymore. I think we come to realize that even if the combined efforts of our supporters and ourselves don’t overcome whatever ominous obstacle comes in our path, we will still have them afterwards to commiserate begin to rebuild.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 17, 2004 1:15 AM in Cooking and Family and Reflections.

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