life on the funny farm

Friday, December 10, 2010

Grocery Day (Or, Things to be Thankful For)

Monday was Grocery Day, as it generally is, barring the unforseen circumstances that pop up from time to time like the livestock running amok through the neighborhood or one of the kids coming down with the latest rampaging virus.
I know I should dread the drudgery. But I will admit here and now with chin high in the sky that I have come to enjoy my Grocery Day. I should be ashamed of myself, bright, college-educated modern woman that I am. After all, what self-respecting 21st century woman in her right mind would admit to enjoying such mundane Betty Crocker Crap? Clipping coupons, comparing prices, checking ingredients, doing the zombie shuffle though the aisles while singing under her breath to the soft rock piped overhead. What's to like?
Well, I'll tell ya':
Number one: Nowadays I can do this while all the kids are quietly bending their heads over their studies at school. I could enjoy stepping on dog poo while the kids are at school. Not that I don't adore my little darlings, but the days of shopping with three kids under the age of four are none too distant and that memory patch is still a bit raw around the edges. Displays being knocked over, packages being opened, butter being consumed. Sprints to the spooky,
cobwebbed employee restrooms with a potty-training tot doing the crotch grab. Trying to ignore the fumes emanating from the diaper from the yearling seated before me. Attempting to physically locate my runaway and politely asking the clerk to post an amber alert. Not to mention the noses leaking putrid-looking goo, my boobs leaking b/c the need-to-nurse-NOW baby is wailing, or the whining, crying, demands for every conceivable make of cereal, cookie,and popsicle. But now that's all behind me. I have a tranquil hour to myself in the quiet calm of the store. It's like a day at the spa.
Number two: Remarkably, there is not a stray sock or a clump of windblown doghair in sight. If there is a spot that looks like it could use a once-over, someone will get to it. Meaning not me.
Number three: Frugal Me likes trying to see how low I can go with the prices. It's like my own private game show, where I try to see how much I can get in the cart for $200 or less.
Number four: I prefer my little local store to the mega-gi-normous supermarket that most of my friends go to. It's little, nothin' fancy. The clerks know me by name (gee I ... I wonder why?) and the "cart boy" is an older delayed man by the name of Kenny that calls everyone Cupcake and seems to have his speaking voice set to megaphone.
Number Five: I can even do the fridge clean-out prior to putting the newly purchased food away without the guilt that would normally accompany tossing "perfectly good" (what's wrong with the color blue?) food in the trash. I have a spectrum of four-legged critters that can consume all manner of leftovers. If the item in question looks good but is just past the date, some can be fed to the house dogs. If the ham is in the slimy-but-not-yet-moldy stage, I can toss it out to our farm dog. Wilted looking produce can go to the rabbits and the goats get nearly everything else. Guilt-free tossing.

And though I hate the redundancy of loading groceries into the cart, onto the conveyor belt, into the car, into the house, and finally onto my shelves at home, there is a certain zen calm that washes over me when the last of the items are all tucked neatly to bed in the pantry or fridge. As I peer into the gigantic, brightly-lit frostiness and gaze at the fiesta of colorful packages , I always flash back momentarily to the days of my youth, when the fridge looked markedly different than the one before me now. In those days, the food packaging tended to the monochromatic, with stark black and white labels devoid of superlatives. Instead of the convenience of the cheese sticks my kids grab for snacks or grated cheese in fancy ziplock bags, we had "guvmint cheese" in a block as long as my arm. Powdered milk, mammoth plastic bags of Puffed Rice, and cans of tuna that could become dinner for six once the miracle of mayonnaise was applied to the formula. I look at the bowl on my kitchen table overflowing with fresh, shiny fruit and recollect that about the only fruit we had as kids was no-brand grape jelly.
And this time of year, these feelings are magnified with grocery shopping for the holidays. It fills me with an enormous sense of satisfaction to walk through the aisles of my grocery store, picking out the items I need to cook the family dinner complete with traditional dishes passed down through the generations. That I can buy the things I need for these special occassions and pay with cash (as opposed to calculating things while filling the cart and then paying with food stamps) marks a notch on my "I've Made It" belt. And aside from that, I love the feeling that the only knock on my door from strangers in the days before the holidays will likely be from a Jehovah's Witness. As a kid, I can remember the good samaritans coming to our door laboring under the load of boxes of donated food collected for "those less fortunate". In my mind I knew how wonderful it was to receive such a bounty. But opening mystery cans dented beyond recognition and boxes of pasta crawling with weevils, it was sometimes hard to fill myself with the gratitude I knew I was supposed to be feeling. And then I would feel ashamed of myself for harboring such thoughts.

What I can be grateful for today is that we are secure enough financially that my kids wouldn't know a food stamp if it bit 'em on the bum. I am thankful that they don't need to wonder if I will be able to stock the shelves with food from week to week. And I am thankful that they will never, at least as children, have to thank a stranger handing them a box of food at the holidays.

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