Sunday, September 09, 2007

Grocery Shopping Vignettes

In a big family the grocery store definitely constitutes ground for dividing and conquering. As grateful as we are for food and the resources to buy it, the task of finding the necessary items, putting them in a cart, unloading them from the cart, putting them back in the cart, unloading them from the cart again and finally placing them on a shelf back home tends to be no one's favorite chore. As with all tasks in a large family, the working motto is, "Many hands make light work." Grocery shopping is not an exception.

Ever since I was twelve, Mom decided to approach grocery shopping like a skilled gamesman playing Risk. She scoped out the store with the cheapest prices and then organized all the items that we would ever buy into columns by aisle. The fancy thing about her list was that it could always be cut right down the middle (corresponding to the position that was half-way through the store). When the list was torn, Mom took half and the "other hands making light work" took the other half. Mom's theory was that we would leave the grocery store in half the original amount of time.

As the oldest, I was the first one in the family to be handed the "other half of the list." When I was twelve, Rebecca was a baby and my mothering tendencies were in full swing. When handed my half of the list, I would dutifully take the cart, my baby sister Rebecca and start finding the items on the "other half of the list." I can only imagine now what the scene must have looked like - my pinky came in and out of Becca's mouth as she fussed and needed to suck. Among many other things, I piled eleven half-gallons of milk (it was cheaper to buy the half-gallons than the full gallons!) into the cart, five boxes of "sugar free" cereal, several pounds of butter, huge bags of pretzels, ten cans of orange juice concentrate, and a big twelve pack toilet paper. And in the midst of my heavily quantified buying, I distinctly remember the conversations with the strangers who would ask me how old my daughter was! The post-grocery store conversations must surely have included, "Guess what I saw at the store? A twelve-year old girl, pushing a baby in a cart, buying eleven half-gallons of milk!"

(The funny thing was that when I went off to college and for the first time started to buy my own groceries, I had no conception of buying for one person. Somehow the ten pound bag of flour still ended up in my cart, along with enough cereal for an entire family!)

Time has passed since the inception of the tear-able shopping list. And today, at the dinner table, we heard report that the youngest in the family, Caleb, is the newest inducted recipient of the "other half of the list."

Caleb, now ten years old, rose to the occasion and bought half of the groceries while Mom completed her side of the store. No new baby to push in the cart, he was given a cell phone instead. Caleb reported that heading down the aisle, talking to Luke on the cell phone and picking up groceries went relatively smoothly. That was, according to him. Caleb, however, reported a man walking up to him and saying, "My, my, son, what a show you are putting on!"

I can only imagine his dinnertime conversation!