Maybe all kids from the country go through this, but almost as soon as I became aware of a larger world around me, big city grocery stores began to fascinate me. As soon as I stepped through the automatic doors into the fluorescent glow of overhead lights reflected in the polished floor tiles, I felt I’d emerged into a new world. Before me I found laid out more produce than I knew was possible to gather in one place, endless aisles of cereal, cheese, and even whole sections of the big box stores devoted to items that weren’t even groceries. Who knew you could pick up Christmas ornaments and a gallon of milk not only on the same trip, but in the same store? From an early age I was hooked on big grocery stores and I clamored to help my grandmother run errands when we visited her in the Chicago suburbs.
As a teenager I grew intrigued by the concept of 24 hour grocery stores. Accustomed to the rhythms of small town life where grocery shopping and banking must happen during set hours of the day on set days of the week, I couldn’t get over the fact that if I wanted to pick up a box of cookies at three in the morning that I could actually do that. When I told my college freshmen roommate that, she laughed.
“Oh Ada,” she said. “You’re never going back are you?”
At the time, I assumed she was right. Flying high on the convenience of large town living, I couldn’t imagine returning to the often inflexible lifestyle of my hometown.
But much of what we assume our freshmen years of college proves false in the long run. Even the great friendship we have with those first roommates often fizzle out in a few short years when it grows apparent that the only real thing we shared was the 10 by 15 room we crammed ourselves into that first academic year.
I haven’t spoken to that roommate in years. Today, I live 55 miles away from my childhood home and all my grocery shopping is completed at a small store that’s absolutely nothing like the big 24 hour box grocery stores that I still have a soft spot for.
Lately we’ve been spending our free time at the cabin stacking wood and installing a new woodstove. The geese have taken to their honking journeys south and the loons haven’t called out in weeks. We know winter isn’t too far off and that means it’s the time of year when you become acutely aware of the distance between you and the grocery store. Groceries are an almost constant quiet worry up here and as the winter progresses that worry increases as the Gunflint Trail grows snow-packed and slick.
I now live a life completely devoid of three in the morning cookie runs. Instead, we spend a lot of effort trying to keep our cupboards from imitating Mother Hubbard’s, with varying levels of success. I mean, who hasn’t eaten a dinner of frozen spinach, mixed with a can of black eyed peas and served over herbed couscous?
The worst supply crisis we had was when we ran out of toothpaste during the busiest time of this past summer. We spent a whole week ransacking every travel kit in the cabin, squeezing every possible bit of toothpaste out of teeny tiny toothpaste tubes before finally running to the canoe outfitters down the road to buy two more teeny tubes of toothpaste. At long last, Andy made a special trip to town after to work with the sole intent of coming home with a couple of full-sized toothpaste tubes.
This life of mine up in the woods: it’s not convenient at all. It requires special planning for even the most mundane tasks and often we fail on the most basic levels. But how else were those big grocery stores going to hold onto their charm after all these years?
Airdate: September 29, 2010