2: Lessons in the Aisles

2: Lessons in the Aisles

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers

Lessons in the Aisles

Most grandmas have a touch of the scallywag.

~Helen Thomson

As I ride out of the grocery store on a motorized scooter cart, I get funny looks from the other shoppers. People don’t know what to make of a 30-something, able-bodied woman riding a device clearly designed for the elderly or disabled. My fellow shoppers also look perplexed to see me ride the empty cart out of the store. Their expressions say, “Where could you possibly be going on that thing?”

The motorized cart isn’t for me. I am just the delivery service for my 92-year-old grandmother, who waits in the car until I bring her the scooter, and we head into the supermarket together for our regular grocery shopping adventure. Amazingly, my grandma never gets funny looks when she rides it. I drive the thing in a fairly safe and controlled manner. My grandma is another story. My kids also give me looks when it comes to the cart, but theirs say, “If you are going to drag us to the store to do Grandma’s shopping, can’t we at least ride the scooter?”

“Do you have my list?” Grandma asks as we head into the store. “Yes, and first we want to stop at the oranges.” Citrus fruits sit by the front door, so we always load up on oranges and grapefruit. And we always have the same conversation. Always.

“Don’t they have anything bigger? These look awfully small. Over by my house, there were the best fruit stands.…” Eighteen months ago, Grandma moved from her home of 50-plus years, and the differences in available produce seem to be one of the hardest adjustments for her.

The hardest adjustment for me is the fact that my grandma always seems to want to get away from me, especially while we are shopping. Perhaps she is embarrassed by me, even though I always brush my hair and put on clean clothes for the trip, and am sometimes the only one in our party to do so. Maybe she just wants a little freedom. Whatever the reason, the moment I turn my back, Stevie McQueen races away in her motorized cart, headed for parts unknown.

“Dear, can you get me an avocado?”

“Sure,” I say. “I’ll be right back, so don’t go anywhere.”

The scooters have two speeds: 1) slow as a snail and 2) escape mode. There is no in-between. I leave her looking at bananas, but in the 30 seconds it takes me to grab an avocado, she kicks her machine into high gear. When I realize she is gone, I search the produce section for her short frame between the towering racks of fruits and vegetables, grabbing items I know she wants while I look for her.

When I finally spot her at the deli counter, I am reminded of another adjustment that has been hard for me—seeing my grandmother’s regard for people change. From across the room I witness her using the cart to bully her way in front of other shoppers waiting in line at the counter.

In the deli, our rehearsed routine shifts from the size of the produce to the price, and probably sounds something like the old radio comedy shows she listened to as a child.

“I want a quarter-pound of sliced chicken. You know the kind I like,” she says to me.

“I know what you like, but it is eight dollars a pound. Are you sure you really want that?”

“How much?”

“Eight dollars.”

“Did you say seven dollars?”

“No, I said eight. Turkey is on sale for four dollars a pound. Can you have turkey this week?”

“Did you say five dollars?”

“No, I said four. Can you have turkey?”

“I don’t know. What else do they have?”

The deli man smiles and watches us with more patience than I can muster as we discuss the price of every item in the cooler before finally settling on the four-dollar turkey, as always. Annoyance begins to rear its ugly head inside my heart.

While I wait for the meat to be wrapped, Grandma escapes again. I send my kids to scout her out. They come running back in a panic. “Grandma just hit the muffin table, and a bunch of stuff fell on the floor!”

The kind deli man simply nods and hands me the turkey as I run off to survey the damage. Curious shoppers flock to see the bakery boxes on the floor, and Grandma looks bewildered by the fact that she can’t move forward or backward without running over pastries. Thankfully, I see the tightly packaged baked goods are clean and unharmed as I restock the table. The baker glares at me with an expression that says, “Can’t you teach her to control that scooter?” My return look says, “Can’t you put more space between the tables?” We visually agree to disagree as I lead Grandma toward the canned foods.

“We can’t forget the orange juice,” Grandma tells me, with no mention of the events in the bakery. I find it disconcerting that knocking things to the ground has become so common that it doesn’t even warrant a comment from her, but she is only concerned with her juice. “Make sure we don’t forget.” We never forget the orange juice because, not only is it on the list, but she will remind me at least three more times.

As we work our way through the list, we negotiate what to spend money on and what can wait. I remind her to be polite to the other shoppers, and send my kids to find her when she scooters off. It is not the best time in the world, but it is time.

I love having time with my grandmother. Despite the frustrations, the repetition, and the funny looks, I wouldn’t trade a minute of it. Amidst the mundane conversations about greeting cards and which brand of soup is best, she works in tidbits about her opinions on politics and social issues, and what it was like growing up in Colorado in the 1920s and ’30s. She raised two daughters, as I do now, and while the details of childrearing have changed with the generations, the essentials remain the same, and she encourages me with her wisdom.

And while we navigate the aisles of the store, I remember the aisles of life she has walked me through as well. Whenever I went to the movies as a child, I went with my grandmother because she knew it was important to go out and have fun together. I learned how to cook from her, and she taught me that the love you put into things made from scratch makes them taste better than those from a box. I learned how to garden and how to can fruit so you always have something to share with your family and friends. Fun. Love. Generosity.

Now that she is older, she teaches me different, but equally important lessons. Patience. Tolerance. Humility. And I am blessed to learn these lessons as we journey together through the aisles.

~Dianne Daniels

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