Like millions of other Americans, grocery shopping is frequently a part of my weekly routine. I do it independently, and there’s a certain comfort in that. For example, knowing that I have enough money to grocery shop feels good, and a well-stocked refrigerator and cupboards mean that I can rest assured that I’ll have something to eat when I’m hungry or thirsty.
The experience of going to the market also evokes fond memories of tagging along with my Dad on food-shopping excursions when I was a kid. Memories of him and my sister accompany me down every aisle as I reflect on how my father approached this Saturday-morning chore.
First of all, I believe he had undiagnosed Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), because he had a system that had to be followed the same way every single time, and he never wavered from it:
He made his grocery list, and checked off each item as it was placed in the cart. That, in itself, wasn’t odd; but if Gloria and I spotted something that we wanted, and it was not on his list, he wouldn’t let us buy it. However, he’d write the items down for consideration for the next list.
Dad religiously cut coupons, and tended to choose the option that was less expensive over the one that tasted better, which undoubtedly came out of his growing up with six brothers in Buffalo, NY, during the Great Depression. In fact, for most of my childhood, we ate canned vegetables over fresh or even frozen ones. A lot of the time our meals consisted of what his mom or my moms’ mother made—food that was cheap and could go a long way. We always had leftovers.
In the store, he’d start down aisle 1 and proceed to aisles, 2, 3, 4, and onto to every aisle in order, until he’d hit the last one. There was no skipping ahead, even though there might not be anything on an aisle that was on his list.
Everything would have to be placed in the cart a certain way, and at the checkout counter, the items had to be bagged the way that Dad wanted them bagged, even if it meant him showing the clerk how to do it.
Fortunately Dad was charming, so his quirks were met by more smiles than grimaces. In some ways, I’m like my father, only I’ve never made a shopping list in my life. I keep it in my head, and yet rarely return home having forgotten anything.
I know exactly what I’m going to get and, like Dad, I rarely waver from my mental list. I use electronic coupons stored in my phone, and I request that things be bagged a particular way. While I don’t correct the store clerk when they get it wrong, I’m quietly annoyed when it’s not done the way I want it.
Once I’m in the car on the way home, I feel a sense of comfort in having spent the last hour or so with my Dad. I know that he probably rolls his eyes when I unpack two bags of gummy bears and a pint of chocolate ice cream, but at least I do get some Malt-o-Meal and yogurt to balance out the junk.
The only thing that would make my grocery shopping any more comforting is for stores to have a call button in each aisle, so that an employee can come to my aid when I need to reach something that’s too high on a shelf. Dad never had that problem, because he was well over 6 feet. I, on the other hand, am only 5’3”. I usually have to stand there waiting for someone tall to happen by, and usually they do.
Sometimes I wonder if Dad spiritually sends them over. I wonder if he whispers into their ear from the Great Beyond:
“Hey, go over to aisle 7, my daughter needs some help with that bottled water on the top shelf!” And then I look up, and my angel has appeared.