Creative Thinking: Remembering grocery runs with Mother

May 4, 2014 

I used to love going to the grocery store with Mother when I was a child. Maybe it was because I so enjoyed munching on the small box of animal crackers she would give me to eat during our trips up and down the aisles.

Even way back then, our parents knew about the magical power of sugar to soothe and entertain. I loved attempting to grab everything I wanted but usually had to put it right back. Money was always tight back then.

There are few things more stimulating to a small child than all the sights, smells and sounds of a grocery store. All the colorful and vivid packaging is definitely designed to grab your attention regardless of your age.

That’s why to this day I always try to go to the store after a meal instead of before. Temptation is literally stacked against you on each shelf you pass. It’s hard enough when you’re full to resist but it’s impossible if your stomach is growling!

One of the things I remember involved the check-out line. The cashiers were always courteous and kind and always had something to say to my sister and me.

“Those cookies sure do look good!” one lady would say pretending to reach for the opened and almost empty box clutched in my hand. Even though I usually offered her one, she always refused.

I guess it was that, upon closer inspection, she could see the cookie paste that was made out of my saliva and cookie crumbs. That combination was definitely a sticky one.

I always had it on both of my hands, around my lips and face and smeared all over the colorful circus animals printed on the small cardboard box.

I loved watching how quickly the cashier would ring up the items Mother selected and placed on the conveyer belt in a mound. The lady, most of the time without even looking up, could pick up an item, key it into the machine and, with a gentle push, help it on its way to the person who bagged it.

Sometimes I tried to help her since I was usually standing in front of the buggy. As it turns out, I really wasn’t much help. I usually put items in the pile that she had already rung up so that they bypassed getting added to our bill.

“Mark, stop doing that!” Mother would say. “She hasn’t rung those up yet.” I was always embarrassed and stopped. There was never any problem deciding which items I had touched. They were the ones with the cookie paste smeared on them.

After the cashier had successfully keyed in all of our groceries, the receipt would noisily come out of one place and the Green Stamps would shoot out from another place.

This was absolutely the highlight of my trip. My eyes darted back and forth not knowing which one to grab first. I usually got a little slap on my hand in midflight to the green stamps. “Let them finish.” Mother pleaded.

I later found out why. They were as green as real money when presented at the Green Stamps store.

On most of our visits, a receipt and green stamps were not the only things we received after Mother finished writing her check for the groceries.

Almost every time, the cashier would reach into the money drawer and count out some fresh bills into Mother’s hand. “Five and ten makes fifteen,” the cashier would say placing the money in my mother’s palm.

I watched very carefully as Mother then folded the money and placed it in her billfold and into her purse. I always thought how cool it was for us to get back money when we were the ones who had been shopping with them.

From that point on, anytime I heard Mother mention she needed some cash money, as my grandmother always called it, I enthusiastically suggested we go to the Piggy Wiggly to get some. “Remember, Mother, they always hand out some at the end!” I would say.

It was many years later before I realized that Mother was actually just writing her check for some extra money and that Piggly Wiggly wasn’t in the habit of just handing out cash.

Over the years, I also learned that almost everything has a price whether it’s in a grocery store or elsewhere and that seldom is anything really free.

I found out that the things that mean the most to us cannot be bought or sold. And, that I wouldn’t take anything, including a box of Barnum’s Animal Crackers, in exchange for my memories of my trips to the Piggly Wiggly with my mother.

I’ve had Mother on my mind a lot recently with Mother’s Day coming up next Sunday. Memories have been flooding my mind from just about every decade. One thing is consistent in all of them. I was the luckiest boy in the world!

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