The grocery store is the place where people choose and purchase their food. It’s like another room in their homes. It’s a place where people feel comfortable being themselves.
I see all manner of life in the grocery store. I know what some women look like without makeup and I’ve seen the appearance of some men before they’ve showered.
People are casual at the grocery store. They’re practically at home. I know what a lot of people wear to bed.
After 25 years in the retail food industry, I’ve witnessed the entire life cycle. I’ve seen children being pushed in carts by their parents grow into adults who now push children of their own. I’ve seen middle-age adults adjusting to being single again, and I’ve seen senior citizens learning how to cook for one.
One of my favorite things to observe in the store is a newly married couple shopping together. They talk softly and calmly to each other, choosing their words carefully so they don’t upset their new spouse in any way. They push the cart together, and even the smallest purchases are made by committee with total regard for their partner.
“Honey, would you like dark red kidney beans or light red kidney beans in your chili?” says the glowing female.
“Oh, whatever you like is fine with me, Dear,” replies the smiling male.
“We’ll just get them both,” she says.
They laugh together like a black-and-white TV commercial.
In a few years, I’ll see that same couple enter the store. He’ll go directly to the bottle return machines and she’ll head in the opposite direction with a cart. After pawing through the magazine rack for awhile, he’ll meet up with her about halfway through the store, plop a 12-pack into the cart and notice two cans of kidney beans.
“Why do we need dark red and light red kidney beans?” he asks.
“Because you like both of them in your chili,” she replies.
“Chili? I hate chili!”
Once couples have children, men tend to disappear from the shopping experience altogether, and the women look relieved. Eventually, women tend to start shopping with a sister or a female friend. They bring all their kids, and I’ve noticed that the mothers with boys seem more tired.
The store I work at has small shopping carts for kids to push around beside their parents’ larger carts. The little girls bring their baby dolls and blankets, and put them in the pint-size carts, along with a box of Pop Tarts and some Lucky Charms so they feel like they’re really helping out mom.
The boys tightly grip the handles on the carts and run. If something has wheels on it, boys will race it. They crash into displays, knock items off the shelves and tip over the carts. Because of this behavior, I know a lot of little boys’ first and middle names.
“Daniel James, slow down!”
“Jonathan Thomas, pick that up!”
“Andrew Michael, stop it!”
For men, shopping is a solitary pursuit. They’ll have a six-pack in one hand; a 10-pound bag of potatoes under one arm; a can of creamed corn under their chin; and steaks, garlic bread and frozen french fries balancing on the other arm. Apparently, using a cart is unmanly.
The worst customers for me are the middle-age confirmed bachelors. They don’t have anyone to talk to at home, so they want to talk to the grocery store employees — me.
They talk about their dogs, their neighbors, their neighbor’s dog, their barber, their barber’s dog, a guy they met at the hardware store, a guy they met at the hardware store’s dog. No wonder they don’t have a wife; they can’t even get along with their dog.
I wish all the bachelors could coordinate their shopping so they would all be at the grocery store together. Then they could talk about their dogs until their ice cream melts.
I also get to see plenty of newly divorced men in the store. They’re the guys on Saturday mornings in sweatpants and a sweatshirt with a couple of tangled-haired kids in their pajamas buying pancake mix, eggs and syrup. They scramble around like mice in a maze grabbing bacon, bread, milk, paper plates, and frozen pizzas and pot pies.
I see business professionals in suits buying salad in bags, yogurt and boneless chicken breast. I see large families buying breakfast cereal in bags, potato chips and bulk hamburger.
I see life as it’s lived daily.
But my favorite people to see at the store are the older couples.
Older couples shop together like newlyweds. They push the cart together, and talk softly and quietly to each other. Retired couples seem content. They know what their spouse is going to put in that grocery cart, and they don’t care. It’s the same thing they’ve been buying for 30 or 40 years.
Seniors have been through the rough and the smooth roads together. They’ve been through the surgeries, the health problems and heartbreaks together. They’ve bought stuff together, vacationed together, raised a family together. Now they have infirmities, bumps and wrinkles, and that person is still beside them. Every week. Same time. At the grocery store.
— By Grant Berry, community columnist