Sunday, October 16, 2016

Jaki Jean On Losing a Grocery Store

A few weeks ago, while shopping at my neighborhood grocery store, a store I often describe without affection, – I recognized a face.

I have been shopping at this store since it opened – & when it was in its first location.  Established by a family owned corporation that sold out to a much larger corporate entity, I have watched as quality, service & consistency suffered & faded from that change.  

I shopped in the days when management hired the elderly & disabled & amazing young people & if I forgot my checkbook, I could sign the receipt & return the next visit with payment.

That was a long day ago.

A few weeks ago was not the first time I recognized a face or someone recognized my face or that the recognition revealed the store as the connection.

It has happened at the strangest moments – taking my mother to a lab for blood work & a man smiling at me & asking me about myself & family, certain he recognized me from somewhere.

That man & I later saw one another at my neighborhood grocery story & realized that we knew one another from that same store.

A few years ago, a young woman smiled at me in the meat aisle & said:

You probably don't remember me.  I used to work at The Walden School - I am Miss Cathy's daughter.  I remember your son Sam & how you used to make your own dog food for a geriatric dog.

But the other day, recognition in the store or about the store meant something different.

The store is fading – the prices increase each week, luring customers in with deals for multiple purchases.  The building itself is fading, lacking diligent & proper maintenance.
I make small trips during the week – because I am not comfortable with leaving my mother for long.  

Many of the employees at this fading establishment know me by name.

The other day, a few weeks ago, I thought I recognized a face from the not so distant past.  One of my favorite cashiers, Patsy.

Patsy knew every regular customer in her line by name.  She visited with each, but still managed to keep the line moving.  She was amazing.  I would wait behind too many people to go through her line.

One day she disappeared.  I asked another of my favorite cashiers, Rebecca, where Patsy has gone.  Rebecca told me that Patsy had taken another job, in a different field.

A few weeks later, I found Patsy in the produce section.  Curious, I asked her about the new job.  She explained that she had not gone job hunting, but that the opportunity simply fell into her lap.

One of her regular customers had hired her right out from behind the register.

While I was saddened at the thought of going through the checkout line without her smile & warmth, I understood.  I was just surprised that it had not happened sooner.
Patsy was what my former supervisor & friend Barbara Smith called, “a shiny penny.” 

Over the ensuing years, I have grieved over the loss of that shiny penny from my grocery shopping experience.  Followed by the loss of my other favorite cashier Rebecca.

Then, a few weeks ago, I watched a store supervisor assisting a cashier.  It was Patsy.
Eventually, we crossed paths, once again in a checkout line.  The store was crowded & reinforcements had been called in from the upstairs office.

When my turn at checkout came, I smiled & told her that I was glad to see her.  Patsy replied:

Ms. Ettinger?  It is nice to see you again.

Our little one square hamlet, its borders framed by Houston & Sugar Land & Stafford, attracted an Aldi’s.  It is scheduled to open in the next few months.  I watch the construction progress greedily, longing for an option to my only local, get in & out in fifteen minutes store.

Outside of what I so often reference without affection, all other traditional stores available in the area are a trek that does not meet my time constraints as a caregiver.

And I love Aldi’s, its prices, the quality of its brands.  I still cannot make the leap from Hellman’s mayo or Grey Poupon or Heinz ketchup or Silk Cashew milk or those wickedly delicious pickles, Wickles or Blue Bell ice cream to an Aldi brand.

I will still shop for those items & chocolate for my mother Jean & frequent the pharmacy & floral department at the other end of the city from Aldi’s.

But it will no longer enjoy the profit from the bulk of my grocery purchases.

And I will miss the shiny pennies. 

Patsy, of course.  Michael who sacks my groceries whenever I am in a lane, always thanking me by my first name.   Jimmy, who works in the meat department & gives me a hug every time he encounters me.  Maria, who is a joy to behold – her hair styles a marvel to me.  I will miss Cedric, who has worked there for so many years that the staff throws a store wide celebration on his birthday.  

Cedric is non-verbal & does not hear.  He reads lips, his face so expressive that signing is not always necessary to understand what he is saying.

When I fell last year & had a head on collision with the tile, floor, Cedric encountered me in an aisle, my left arm in a sling, my left eye & left side in varying shades of black, purple & yellow. 

Cedric wept.  I could see the worry & concern in his eyes & face.  He signed, asking me what happened.  I assured him that no one had hurt me, that I had fallen, that it looked much worse that it felt.  I did not tell him that it still hurt like hell.

Recognizing Patsy was different than encountering other friends or distant relatives or peers or acquaintances.   It initiated a sense of loss.

Seeing Patsy again in a familiar setting reminded me how deeply I will miss those shiny pennies.  I will miss cashiers & sackers & managers greeting me & asking about my mother Jean.  

For all these years, I have shopped at a store where the players changed but most eventually knew my face, a great deal of my story, & my name.

But the lure of Aldi's awaits . . .

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