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WOSTER: Nostalgia in a grocery aisle

Terry Woster

A guy should go grocery shopping more often. The other day, I saw an old-fashioned box of animal crackers on the shelf.

In truth, I wasn't doing a lot of grocery shopping. I was walking up and down the aisles beside Nancy as she maneuvered the cart through the Saturday afternoon crowd. I walked behind her quite a bit, and I walked in completely different aisles now and then. I'm not a wimp (well, I am, I suppose, but still, I'm a grown man and able to hold my own in most crowds) but the pushing and shoving in the grocery aisles was more physical than anything I ever experienced under the basket in my basketball days.

When other shoppers were incoming with their carts moving at ramming speed, I invariably was the one who chickened out and stepped aside. Well, one time I didn't, but that was because the button on the sleeve of my jacket got hung up on the corner of Nancy's cart so I couldn't move out of the way. At the last second, the oncoming shopper wimped out, and I was saved a trip to the emergency room.

As the situation unfolded, I felt like I was Buzz Gunderson in that James Dean movie, "Rebel Without a Cause." There's that scene where Buzz and James Dean's character, Jim, are involved in a "Chickie Run," driving stolen jalopies toward a high cliff and trying not to be the first one to jump from the vehicle. (Jim: "Why do we do this?" Buzz: "You gotta do something. Don't you?") When Buzz decides it's time to bail out, the strap on his black leather jacket catches on the door handle and, whoops, over the cliff. At least they didn't have many cliffs in the grocery store the other afternoon.

When we go shopping, Nancy is somewhat more organized than I would be. She has a list written on a small notebook, and she buys the stuff on the list. I'd be more apt to get a few notions in my head and see how many I could remember once I got to the store and started through the aisles. I might not return with everything I wanted or needed, but I'd unload some bags of pretty interesting purchases, some of which a charitable person might actually characterize as groceries.

On this recent Saturday, in fact, I made several suggestions about items we might consider. I saw a super-jumbo sized bag of those classic potato chips, you know, the ones that are plain, salty, burned a little on the edges?

Me: "Did you ever get the urge to just buy the biggest bag of plain, old potato chips you could and eat the whole thing before you even got home from the store?" Nancy: "Not really, but why don't you get a bag if you want to?" Me: "Nah, I'd probably just eat the whole thing before we even got home."

Now, I don't spend a lot of time in grocery stores, as I said. When I am there alone, it's usually to guy a specific amount of meat or turkey or something for a particular family dinner or to pick up milk or bananas. Those are pretty safe missions. In the door, acquire the target, go to the self-checkout station, mess up the electronic scanner, ask an employee to help with the self-checkout machine, bag the stuff and out the door. I don't wander the aisles studying the merchandise.

This day, I did that. Who knew they had all this stuff in a grocery store?

To get back to the animal crackers: when I was a kid, those plain little wafers in the shapes of elephants and lions and seals were sold in small, colorful boxes decorated to look like circus train cars, with a dainty string handle. Imagine my surprise when I saw that very same item. Take me back to the old days or what?

I stood and reminisced to Nancy about what a treat it was when we were allowed to buy a box of animal crackers. Then I realized she had long since moved and was two aisles over.