I always park near the cart corral, no matter the weather. It usually means a longer walk into the grocery store, but it means less time finding a place to put my cart when I’m done with my shopping. I picked the Bi-Lo today, because it was closest and I’m feeling mentally and physically lazy.
Bi-Lo is really a terrible grocery store, but I’m not in the best of moods anyway, so it followed that I’d fit right in. Back in the days of Melrose Gulfman, a heady time when my late friend was planning his next move from a dark little apartment on Haywood road, the Long Island native would spend inordinate amounts of time pouring over the Bi-Lo ads for the best deals. As I walked into the store, I thought about how I missed my friend and his “not from ’round here” phrases. He was the only guy I knew in these parts who would start a sentence with words like, “I went food shopping and was standing on line…”
Cold drizzle made psychedelic runners of road oil in the parking lot. I looked like a dandy as I jumped over the puddles and made my way inside. The shopping carts were all wet and soaked my list before I had time to memorize it. It was too hot inside and I regretted wearing a sweater. I settled into a familiar path around the store, paying less attention to what I was knocking into my cart than the people around me.
Grocery stores are different in the last few days before Christmas. The people inside are not normal shoppers. They are holiday food gatherers, on errands, on last-minute runs, on missions of escape. On the eve of Christmas Eve, the holiday get-togethers are starting to gather steam. Families have now spent a couple of days get used to being around each other again. The shopping for the holiday meals needs to get done.
I first noticed the blonde mother who couldn’t stop smiling. She was tall, thin, and walking with a sense of such gleeful purpose, I was sure nothing would stand in her way. She had given up the cart in favor of her more useful and expedient arms. The loaves of bread and cans of food were certainly items she had either forgotten or decided later she would need. Now that her boys were home for Christmas, she would cook a big meal in celebration. She never stopped moving and she never stopped smiling.
In another aisle, I spotted another blonde mother. This one moved slower. She was tall and large and didn’t crack a smile. She paused in front of the shelves and looked without aim. I didn’t look in her cart for fear of seeing something depressing–a frozen dinner, maybe. Her face told most of the story anyway.
A three-year-old kid bounded out from behind a display. If I had been moving any faster, I would’ve run over him. As I maneuvered around him, I looked down the row. His dad was there on what was certainly an errand directed by a harried wife. The dad, despite having to corral his kid, looked thankful for the relative quiet of the store.
Two forty-something men in plaid coats and blue jeans walked together. I knew in a second that they were brothers. Their scruff and gait were the same. The smiled and laughed as they walked. No doubt, they haven’t seen each other in a while and are getting together at their folks for the holidays.
In the beer aisle, men lingered. It was here that they did their only real thinking. Some of them wondered how much they would have to drink to get through the weekend with their family. Others wondered how much they would have to drink to get through the holiday alone. Two other brothers took a different tact. With huge smiles, they grabbed case after case of Bud Light and piled it into the shopping cart. When they were finished, the beer was stacked four feet out of the cart, not to mention filling the bottom rack and in the child’s seat section. It took both of the brothers to get to the cashier. I didn’t bother trying to guess. I was just glad I wasn’t going to be with them on Christmas morning.
As I made my way to the cashier, I heard a familiar voice and followed the sound up to the face of an old friend. She was on the phone and looking in another direction. For a reason I still don’t fully understand, I ducked down another aisle and turned my back to her. I had no reason to avoid her, other than I just didn’t feel like talking.
Maybe I didn’t want her looking in my cart and trying to figure me out.
Outside, it was still drizzling. I threw the bags in the back of my car as fast as possible. When I was finished, the cart corral was right there.