Four things. I only needed four things from the grocery to complete the brunch I was planning for friends the next morning. But it was late evening, the kids were tired and we needed to get home.
“I’ll just run in quickly” I said to my kind and patient husband sitting in the driver’s seat of our borrowed furlough car. “Just drive the kids in circles around the parking lot a couple times, feed them raisins, and I’ll be out in a jiffy.”
I jumped out of the car, slammed the door and briskly walked through the swooshing automatic doors. I bypassed the big carts, the little carts, the kiddie carts, the infant carts and the disinfecting cart-wipes. I grabbed a basket instead. Gotta make it quick.
The first item on my short list was sausage. This one was easy. I saw a sign for “Breakfast Meats” and knew I was headed in the right direction. I was surprised at the amount of options but not slowed down. I glanced over the patties, links, pre-cooked varieties, several packages of crumbled sausage, the maple flavored, the spicy flavored, the other flavored and a handful of additional options to choose a simple package of ground meat. Quick and easy, as I had hoped.
Next came pancake mix. I located this fairly easily and stood wide-eyed at the choices. “Which one of these is, like, closest to what I normally make from scratch?” I wondered to myself. I chose the allegedly “Whole Grain Blueberry” option, winced at the price and threw a box in my basket. No time to second guess myself.
Onto pancake syrup. Naturally I started looking near the pancake mixes. But no, they weren’t nearby. I glanced down the rest of the aisle. Then the next one. I struggled. Wrong aisle. Not there. Turn around. Maybe there? What is that?! Go back. Try again. Where at? Not here. Over there? Nope. But where? I hadn’t planned on running a marathon inside the store walls and I feared I would soon feel a cramp form in my under-exercised-and-extra-padded-from-too-much-American-food-and-no-self-control-cause-“We’re-only-here-for-a-couple-months” body.
After crossing several time zones I eventually located the syrup and found myself staring at more than a dozen varieties. Breakfast syrup, maple syrup, table syrup, honey syrup, natural syrup, organic syrup and more. My eyes darted from label to label, daunting price tag to even MORE daunting price tag. Ounce sizes, percentage of real syrup and state of origin. Soon I begin wondering if the trees are free-range or grain-fed? First generation tree-tappers or twelfth? Lord help me!
Suddenly, I remember my husband and children circling the parking lot. By now the low-fuel light has probably come on and the raisin supply has depleted. This is no time for a lesson in various syrups; I must hurry. I chose a mid-price-range table syrup, unsure of what table syrup actually is, but content with a happy medium between the pure maple syrup that I would have had to send out a special financial appeal letter to afford and the ninety-nine cent non-food chemical version of pancake syrup.
Sausage? Check. Pancake mix? Check. Syrup? Check. That’s three out of four. I’m getting there.
The last item on my list was whipping cream. I headed confidently for the dairy section. I walked past the milk, the yogurt, the eggs and the cheese. I spotted no “real” whipping cream. Spinning around, I walked by again, slower this time. No luck. Then I stopped to think, Whipping cream, whipping cream, where would one find the whipping cream? I must have been missing something obvious, right?
I paused to allow time for the lightbulb to go off in my head so that I could re-direct myself and grab a pint post-haste.
But there was no lightbulb. Instead I walked through the area slower still, carefully searching each shelf for a hidden row of cream. Certainly, it must be here, I assured myself. But after careful scanning, I still did not find it. I could have given up at this point, certain that my guests would not care if they had whipped cream on top of the fresh fruit-topped pancakes. But I did not give up. Instead, I stood in the middle of the aisle surrounded by cheeses of all kinds, flavored coffee creamers, four dozen varieties of eggs and milk from all sorts of chickens and cows who may or may not have been given antibiotics or hormones or whatever.
And then the tears came. I frantically glanced through the wells of emotion gathering around my eyeballs for any employee/grocery-store shopping regular/innocent bystander who could help me locate the solitary item left on my list. I was desperate. But there was no one around to help me in my time of need. And I was still crying.
Defeated and stressed to the max, I reached for the nearest can of imitation whip, dropped it in my basket and began the half-mile hike to the check-out.
And then a funny thing happened on that long walk to the front of the store. I suddenly had a new appreciation for shopping in my (usual) home in North Africa where most stores are no bigger than a single-car garage, the prices are always the same and there are rarely more than three varieties of one item to choose between. Shopping there – I realized as I dug around in my enormous bag for that silly shoppers loyalty card – is refreshingly simple and straightforward.