A weekday morning, around 10. A shuttle bus from one of the retirement homes nearby stops in front of the grocery store. The driver turns off the engine and walks over to the side with the steps. He stands there, with a smile on his face and a ready joke on his lips, as his charges walk down the steps, one by one. He reaches out his hands to help them. Some of them lean on canes, some are completely bound to their walkers. They're mostly old ladies, but there are a few men too.
They shuffle in through the doors, two by two. Who's leaning on who? It's hard to tell. There's something forlorn in that sight. It reminds me of the time C was in pre-school, as he and his friends walked into class in twos, his tiny hand seeking comfort in an equally tiny hand.
They bypass many aisles - most of them have no use for fresh vegetables or meat or uncooked pasta - but still it takes them a while to go around the grocery store. As I rush through the store with D perched in her seat on the cart, having to hit most of the aisles but also having to attend to ten other things on my to-do list for the day, I can't help but slow down as I near one of the old ladies. They can hear D's high-pitched voice and eagerly turn to look. I shuffle right along with them for a couple of minutes as they coo to D and try to get a smile out of her.
By the time I get to the check out counter, there's already a couple of them laying out their purchases on the belt.
Two ripe bananas, one apple, one can of beans or corn or peas (pick your canned veggie), one bag of chips, one package of crackers, one package of deli meat. And then they carefully remove the coupons from their wallets, checking the monitor to make sure they're receiving the price they're supposed to.
There are a few variations here and there, but the sparseness of the items and the smallness of the quantities never fail to get me. I too have lived alone, when all I bought was enough stuff to sustain me. But I was young, my whole life was ahead of me and I knew it was temporary.
Here I am now, with the two of us and two growing kids in my family, my grocery cart chockful of the good things in life - cartons of milk, variety of fruits, fresh veggies, boxes of pasta, packages of tortillas, a dozen eggs, ingredients to bake goodies with, etc., etc., and I can't help but imagine the lonely meals those items on the checkout counter will go on to make.
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