Shopping At Fifty

Can we talk about grocery shopping? And I mean the kind of grocery shopping you do when your kids have all left the nest and you no longer need a Greyhound bus to haul home the stuff that will keep your family alive for another week.

Instead of choosing grocery stores that honor the most coupons or that give me money back for gas, I’m now more apt to choose a store that has the best Swedish fish situation. Or one where I can make my own hand cream with peanut butter and pumpkin seeds or buy an electric pepper shaker just because it’s there.

Now that I’m not having to plead with the store manager to put the cereal in alphabetical order, I can just wander along like a queen with a cart, picking out things that once were a luxury — like cheese that doesn’t come in individually wrapped slices or olives that I will eat for breakfast just because I want to.

I remember the first time I went grocery shopping without having the 15-pound box of Cheerios balancing in between two gallons of milk. I bought cashews, and lettuce that didn’t come from an iceberg, and I laughed at the ketchup aisle and told the paper towels they’d have to find something better to do.

“Free at last!” I shouted to my checkbook.

And while shopping certainly gets better at this time in life, so have the stores. I mean, I grew up shopping in supermarkets the size of today’s drug stores, and there were six aisles with only two brands of each item and a woman named Olive at the register whom I’d known for my entire life.

We could even sign our name for groceries just like they did in colonial times — although I must admit that all stopped when my older brother discovered steak.

Here’s the thing: there is just way too much stuff. There’s too many brands of dog food, too many choices for bread, too many parking spaces, and too many products for one human being to take in.

And there’s also too many questions at the checkout line:

“Paper or plastic?”

“Do you have a shopper’s card?”

“Would you like your meat in a separate bag?”

“Would you like to put your greeting card in your purse?”

“Aren’t you too old for this shade of lipstick?”

Half the time I don’t remember where I parked my car, and don’t laugh because who over 50 remembers exactly where they parked their car every time they go grocery shopping? I just forget to make a mental note of it on the way in, and then try to pretend to stroll confidently along with my cart afterwards when I truly have no idea where it is.

How about when you bring your husband’s car shopping and forget that you did as you’re searching for your own, convinced you’re either crazy or that someone has stolen your car?

And then, an hour later and before the police come, there it is, your husband’s car, sitting all alone beneath a lone parking lot light, looking a little forgotten.

The other day, I was searching for a disposable aluminum pan to make lasagna in and I might as well have been looking for Swedish meatballs in a Chinese market.

If I have to traverse a store the size of a football field twice to find one item, I’m not going to be smiling by the time I make my way to customer service:

“Uh, yeah,” I said, “I’m looking for a disposable aluminum pan which is certainly a lot less rare than a table runner with pumpkins on it, which, by the way, I passed six times on my way across the store and back. Also, I am hoping to find an aluminum pan that won’t cause cancer; that has an actual picture of lasagna on it so I know it’s the right size and that costs somewhere in the ballpark of what it cost to make.”

By the time I find the aluminum pan, I could care less if it says “Made With Uranium,” has a picture of a tray of won tons on the front, or costs $129.99. I just want the pan and I just want to get outside so I can hunt for my car in peace.

It’s not that I don’t like all these fancy new grocery stores where it’s possible to buy everyone you know a present while picking up chicken thighs for dinner; it’s just that they came at a time in my life when I’m not truly capable of appreciating them.

And if they could just provide a shuttle bus to home, it would certainly make my life a whole lot easier.

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