I was in the grocery line the other day when the woman behind me pointed to my cheese.
“What a remarkable cheese,” she commented. “What is it?”
It was some Tuscan-inspired thing with herbs and pepper flakes and unidentified crusty things over the surface, outrageously expensive but on sale for a price that validated bringing it home to the Voracious Teenage Vultures.
“It is unique looking,” the checker commented, picking it up and reading through the ingredients.
The woman behind the cheese commentator spoke up,
“I really like unique cheeses.”
“Where did you get it?” the first woman asked.
“It’s on sale,” the checker offered.
For the next five minutes, a lively banter flowed amongst the four of us concerning cheese, cheese prices, cheese casseroles, and the difference in eating habits between finicky felines, toddlers, and teenagers (for the record, toddlers eat only cheese and nothing else; teenagers eat cheese and everything else, and finicky felines need to are lucky to get something, anything, out of a can).
Earlier in the store I had chatted with another woman over the price of salami, both of us marveling at the sheer size and bulk of the chub.
“Here,” she handed me the one she was holding. “Take this one; it’s bigger.”
Considering that both packages said 32 ounces, I wasn’t sure of her logic, but I appreciated that her heart was more generous than even the salami.
In the course of the shopping trip, I networked with fellow shoppers in the produce section, frozen food aisle, and the paper towel and toilet paper sub-division. All of the tête-à-têtes were initiated by the other patrons.
There’s something about the grocery store that brings out the best in people. It’s as if we realize that we’re all in this together, and it’s fun to talk food.
For several years, Tired of Being Youngest and I squired about Grandpa, who spent his last days on earth battling severe short-term memory loss and dementia.
One of Grandpa’s favorite haunts was the grocery store. A friendly and garrulous soul, Grandpa accosted anyone who breathed, convinced that he was somehow closely related to this person.
Within minutes, the jokes were trotted out, the comments and observations, the highly suspect Native American phrases that he had picked up in his youth and brought out after every single solitary family meal to the point of reducing my elegantly appointed and always-in-control sister-in-law to the verge of screaming.
Grandpa was an equal opportunity accoster, and in the five-year span during which he cornered and buttonholed total strangers who were looking at lunch meats or poking peaches or considering whether soda is a valid food choice, not one person brushed him off. You could almost gauge the moment in their eyes when they realized that this man, though he sounded like he was all there, was really locked up in the prison of his mind.
Tired of Being Youngest gently tugged and pulled, urging Grandpa to move along and stop bothering the person, but Grandpa unlatched his hold with great reluctance. To a man, woman and child, the accosted persons nodded, smiled and stayed put until Grandpa was done.
After Grandpa died, I was in a fast-food establishment, determining whether or not I wanted fries with that, when an elderly gentleman approached me and began chatting. He seemed lucid at first, but something he said about the local professional baseball team (we don’t have one) using onions as their batting balls clued me in. Tired of Being Youngest caught my eye and we shared a moment of complete understanding before turning our attention back to our accoster.
People need to talk — those with dementia, those without and those in between. In an era when Facebook increasingly overshadows face to face, we need to be aware of and open to the opportunities we have to connect with fellow human beings and literally touch bases. And we don’t have to talk about great things.
Cheese will do.