Grocery stories are one of my least favorite places. The harsh lights, overwhelming choices, and end displays are all meant to confuse you and to trap you into buying things you don’t need or to keep you from finding the things you do need. And they are always moving stuff around. When I recently discovered (neighborhood Jewel) that the sugar and the flour no longer live together in the baking aisle, I found myself wanting to hunt down the store manager and mow him down with my squeaky-wheeled grocery cart. Who separates flour and sugar? An evil person, that’s who. Today, however, my experience at the grocery store was different.
The blogger who does not cook decided to make cookies—lots and lots of cookies: butter cookies, chocolate cookies, sugar cookies, and chocolate chip cookies. Armed with my list, I took off for my favorite store. Cosco makes shopping bearable. They greeted me with Ritz Crackers and cheddar cheese and other samples as I flew down the aisles, where like items are always shelved together. Check-out is organized and quick, even on a Saturday morning. In no time, the car was loaded with all my cookie-baking ingredients, and I was on my way home. After I had unloaded everything, I discovered that I hadn’t purchased flour.
Coat, boots, hat, scarf, back to the store I go—the neighborhood Jewel this time (the one that separates flour and sugar) I added six large bags of flour to my cart and then wheeled it down to the sugar, where I reshelved four of the flour bags, adding post-it notes to the bags, which read, “Flour and sugar belong together.” I do this every time I go to this Jewel. You have to stand for something, and I stand for flour and sugar. Time to check out.
I moved into the express lane with my cart. An elderly woman lines up behind me holding one loaf of bread. I tried to ignore her. There were only two bags of flour in my cart, and it was the express lane. I wasn’t obliged to let her go ahead of me. I heard her sigh. No. I was first. The bread lady moved to the right of me so that I could see her and her one loaf of bread. “OK, FINE,” I silently yelled.
Me: “Hi, you only have a loaf of bread. Why don’t you go ahead of me?”
Bread Lady: “Oh, thank you so much.” (She looks in my cart.) “Are you making cookies?”
Me: “I am making cookies. I forgot to buy flour.”
Bread Lady: “Isn’t that the way it always is? We always made Christmas chocolate chip cookies—it was our tradition—but since my sister died of Parkinson’s, I don’t bake much anymore. I miss her more this time of year.”
Me: “I’m so sorry.”
Bread Lady: “Yes, well, I wish I didn’t have to live through one more Christmas. I am ready to be with all my loved ones that I’ve lost. I’ve had a good, long life, and now I’m ready for it to be over.” (price check, please. please. please. I need more time.)
Me: “Really? I bet you have a few more things to do here before you join your love ones.”
Bread Lady: (smiles) “Honey, I am 85. There isn’t much left for me to do.”
Me: “Well, there must be or you wouldn’t still be here. Wouldn’t you hate to get to heaven and realize you missed something or somebody on earth. You’ve given it 85 years; a few more couldn’t hurt!”
Bread Lady: “Why, I never thought of that. Maybe there is. Don’t you hate the paper bags they give you now?” (Jewel has the cheapest paper bags ever, and if you want plastic, you either have to buy them or bring them.)
(The line has stalled. The woman behind me is tapping her foot. I know if she does it one more time, I’m going to turn around and deck her holly! Why are people always in such a hurry? Oh, the express lane.)
Me: “They are awful. (I quickly unroll the Jewel buy-five-for-a-dollar bags that are in my cart.) Here, take one of my plastic one’s.”
Bread Lady: “Thank you. It was nice chatting with you. Like a Christmas present. Good luck with those cookies.”
The bread lady waved as she left her check-out lane. The cashier took forever to put my flour in the plastic bags. I raced to the parking lot to look for her—I needed her address to bring her chocolate chip cookies.
She was gone.
Odd Loves Company,