I have written about my 89-year-old mother in past posts to this site. Mother Stanko is in reasonably good health but doesn't drive. So my sister (most of the time) and I (some of the time) have to take her around to handle her basic errands like doctors visits, shopping and hair appointments. This week I gave my sister a break and took my mother shopping.
We almost always go to a grocery chain called Giant Eagle. No, this isn't a pet store or aviary but the actual name of a grocery store. Giant Eagle has been around this area for as long as I can remember and has done a good job keeping up with the times. Their new mega stores are so big that if you buy green bananas at one end of the store, they are yellow by the time you check out. Shopping there is my mother's main means of exercise, so we just walk and walk in search of the things we need.
My mother did all the shopping as a child for her family of thirteen. Her family was poor and my mother did her best to make their limited resources go as far as possible. This is why my mother still treats any grocery store as a foreign army to be conquered or at least a place where she can secure enough concessions and victories (while taking no prisoners) to consider her shopping expedition a success.
We started out this week in the produce section. I thought it odd that no workers were present while we were there, but then I spotted them huddled behind the cabbage, hiding from my mother's presence. And she was indeed looking to engage someone to inform them that their prices (like they have anything to do with the prices) are too high. When my mother buys green beans, just to give you an idea, she picks them out one at a time, not by the handful. She refused to buy broccoli this week because it was "too yellow." (It looked green to me.) And she squeezed 35 (I counted) heads of lettuce before she identified the anointed one that was privileged to be the centerpiece for her next salad.
From there, we went to the candy aisle because it's time to stock up on Easter candy. We waded through the huge selection to find the jelly beans that were on sale. Before we made our final selection, however, my mother squeezed them to see which bag had the softest beans. She reluctantly made her choice, feeling somewhat compelled to buy the kind we did because we had a coupon for an additional 50 cents off.
From there, it was off to get bread and eggs (but first, it was time to change the tires on our cart, since we had pushed it many miles by then). My mother opens each carton of eggs, nudging every egg to see if they stick to the carton. If they don't move, it means they are cracked and promptly returned for some other unsuspecting shopper to secure. (This one I don't get; isn't it the fate of every egg purchased to be cracked eventually? So what if it happens a little prematurely in the store?)
The bread, ah yes, the bread. The bread we eventually choose must be so soft that, when squeezed, it deforms, never to return to its original shape. When that happens, my mother cooly returns that loaf and chooses another. We are still looking for the perfect loaf, sort of like a surfer hunts for the perfect wave. But no bread will grace our toaster or sandwich that doesn't pass multiple inspections and tests.
Am I making fun of my mother? Not at all. It's fascinating to me that her shopping habits and philosophy were shaped more than 80 years ago and she hasn't changed. That certainly is a testimony to the power of our childhood experiences to shape our behavior even into our senior years--for good or bad.
I don't know how many years my mother has remaining or how many more times I will be able to take her shopping. So what do I care if she squeezes every tomato in the Giant Eagle chain? I want to try and make her shopping excursions enjoyable, especially since they are the extent of her social outings these days. So go ahead, Mom, take all the time you need to secure what it is that you want. Just don't ask me to switch some of the potatoes in one bag for those nicer ones in the other bag. I think that's going a little bit too far.
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