The produce section of the grocery store used to give me nightmares. I rushed through it like an octopus. I grabbed vegetables while swatting Tommy’s hands away from plucking that one apple that might topple the pile of fruit. At the same time, I needed a third hand to readjust Kay’s pacifier or pass her a toy or a piece of cheese. The perils of the produce aisle sometimes tempted me to buy packaged food instead.
I did all of this with one eye on Garry who stood on the bar at the end of the cart. Sometimes, I raced the cart down an empty aisle. I had to give my speed demon (link to watch out for speed) a reward for his patience.
This was in the 90’s before it was common to have car-shaped shopping carts with two seats and safety belts. We had to make do with the basic wire cart meant to hold one not-so wiggly toddler up front. Kay sat there with my purse wedged in next to her. Occasionally a carton of eggs perched on her other side. When I pushed the cart, her legs were perfectly positioned to kick me right in the stomach. The boys took turns at riding in the big section that was meant to hold groceries. Luckily, they thought it was great fun to have items piled up around them. I don’t know why they liked it, but I just counted that big blessing and kept my mouth shut.
One morning I hit my limit of mom phrases before we left the first aisle. “Don’t touch that. Keep your hands to yourself. No, we’re not getting that. Sit down. Put that back on the shelf.”
I must have blocked out the memory of how I managed to collect items, wait in line, and finish checking out. However, I clearly remember stopping the cart abruptly next to our car in the parking lot. Loudly and furiously, I barked out the Grocery Store Rules of Conduct. In the same tone of voice, I reminded them that they heard these rules before, many times.
After my lecture, but before I stuffed kids and groceries in the car, a man appeared in front of me. I was so engrossed in my own frustrations, I didn’t notice him walking towards us. With a gentle smile on his face, he commented, “Those grocery store rules sure are tough.”
I couldn’t mistake his obvious delight and understanding of my situation as he chuckled quietly with soft eyes and crinkled eyebrows. I felt a rush of relief to talk with someone who had compassion instead of judgement. His words diffused the situation instantly. I don’t remember if I even replied. I’m guessing I stared at him, dumbfounded, just like my kids.
I didn’t think to thank him at the time. I wish I knew who he was so I could give him a big hug even now, all these years later.