The Grocery Store
When Butch and I were first married and he was stationed at Ft Hood, TX, we found lots of differences in grocery stores between California and Texas. One of our first trips to the grocery store together we had garbanzo beans on our list. When we asked where they were, no one had any idea what we were talking about. He amused himself as we continued shopping by chanting, “Garbanzo beans, where are you?” My cousin informed me that if we had just referred to them by their proper name—chick peas—we would not have had any problems finding them. If someone asked for a price check on an item and he happened to be near a microphone (they had them hanging at various locations throughout the store back then) he would pick it up and offer some random price before the store employee had time to respond. Having spent years organizing groceries in the trailer for delivery to the stores, he automatically organized the groceries in my cart. It was much faster to put away groceries when he went because he arranged them in the cart the way they were at home. The bags were generally packed so that all the items in a bag belonged together on our shelves. I, on the other hand, just fling things into the cart. He never stopped being a fun grocery store date, his quick humor finding something funny all the time.
Delivering to grocery stores for 50 years, he had a lot of stories to share. Like many Californians, the first shaft of sunshine and he broke out the shorts. With all the bicycling, he had very well defined muscles in his legs. There was an employee in one of the bakeries who would regularly comment on what great legs he had. It really started to bug him. One day, she reached over and fondled his thigh just above the knee. He was horrified to hear himself say, “I never in my life thought I would say this, but if you ever touch me again, I will file a sexual harassment claim.” It seemed very unmanly to him. It changed his perspective forever. He was especially annoyed when he would be moving a heavy pallet of groceries down an aisle and someone would suddenly cut in front of him or stop directly in his path. He could not imagine that people don’t get how hard it is to get that much weight moving and how really hard it is to get it to suddenly stop. He was once moving a large pallet down a narrow aisle and a group of store employees working their way through the store discussing products suddenly came to a complete halt right in front of him. There was no way around and no room to turn around. He looked at the important looking person they were all listening to and said, “You are obviously very important. But would you mind being important in another aisle? I need to continue delivering your products.” Another time, a bakery manager had a small but loud temper tantrum because he would not take her pies out of the cases and arrange them in alphabetical order on the shelf in the freezer. His job was to drop the cases in the freezer, period. After she had her little outburst, he said, “You obviously get people to do what you want when you act like that. If you expect me to be intimidated by your female manipulations, you guessed wrong. You haven’t met my wife.” He cleaned that up by saying he was talking about the pre-therapy wife.
The only time I have any fun in the grocery store now is when I have my granddaughter with me. She is currently in love with the movie Zootopia and the Bubble Guppies. She recites lines from her favorite scenes constantly. Listening to her singing the barely discernable lyrics from Zootopia (You can be anything) as she passionately makes hand gestures and claps for herself at the end is priceless. It does wear on you as she loudly says, “Big Bubble City!!” 50 times though. There were years when I was allowed to go with him in the truck. It was a great escape from life to just ride along and watch him do his thing. The view from up there is spectacular. The interplay between the drivers and the dock crew and store managers is fascinating. Mostly, though, it was a chance to see him in his element.
I used the bathroom at Bel Air today. It is inside the storage area in the rear of the store. Walking back there, the part of the store I went with him, brought lots of memories rushing in. The smell. The sound of the receiver moving pallets around. Squeezing through narrow passages and remembering how good he was at navigating those spaces. Just remembering him. Always knowing there was a joke just about to be told, a laugh just about to be shared. And now, it’s just a walk to the bathroom.
The shopping itself is another mine field. It took months to stop reflexively picking up his favorite things. It struck me as so sad that I would never again be able to bring him treats when I shop. Who knew that aisles of groceries could be so laden with pieces of him? I just want to hear his voice again. Learning to shop and cook for one is a much more difficult transition than when we first married and I had to learn to cook for two instead of the seven in my family. It is alarmingly easy to become robotic and habitual about food. Even the things I really enjoyed cooking or eating when he was with me have lost their flavor without him. I can so clearly see my family’s generational belief that food is love and eating is fellowship rearing its ugly head in this.
I am told by my mentors in grief that becoming us without them very much means creating a new world around food. People suggest taking a cooking class, trying new recipes, inviting friends to share a meal, and talking to our support people so they understand what’s going on for us and include us in their lives more mindfully. Like so many other parts of our new lives, this is one problem that cannot be tackled alone. If we withdraw and sink into the misery that comes with our loss, we will be trapped in that misery for the rest of our lives. The only way out is through. Most people are more than happy to help someone who is proactively working to build a new life. They grow weary of supporting us when their help doesn’t seem to be helpful. Our grieving peers are infinitely patient with us, remembering what it was like for them. They can walk miles and miles with us as we work through the pain. Some people best support us as we learn things like how to have fun, laugh, and create new rituals and memories in the grocery store. Others are able to walk with us through the catacombs, while we make peace with the ghosts and goblins. Becoming us without them means figuring out who goes in which group and letting that be OK for us and for them.
Just remember, it is never a good idea to pour out our whole story on the lady at the Kentucky Fried Chicken when she says, “How can I help you?”