Okay, yes, I do spend a lot of time in supermarkets. We have a small refrigerator. I'm old-fashioned. We invest a lot of time and thought into what we eat. We're healthy-food conscious. I have the time to do this. I do not only my own, but my father's shopping. We don't have a lot of excitement in our lives nowadays, I love to find bargains. I find shopping, for food, relaxing. Shopping for clothing, I do not find relaxing - probably due to the amount of shopping for food that I do. Hmmm, correlation? But it's all healthy stuff as Whole Foods suggests, "buy goods, not bads". We do. But.
This is not about food. This is not about supermarkets. This is not about healthy choices or goods over bads.
This is about yet another of my observations. This one happens to be based on what I have been seeing lately or have been seeing all along but now that scene resonates. Here's how it starts. I see an elderly woman or man, pushing a shopping cart, a cane lying across the cart, very few other items in the cart. Behind or alongside that person is another person, a younger version of the elder. This person has his or her own cart and into it go the items that the elder person has either selected after many, many moments of contemplation, or the younger person has selected and, after a discussion, has placed it into the cart. Slowly, the couples shuffles along. Not one isle is missed, everything is scrutinized and the elder person is carefully and lovingly guided through the store before arriving at the check out counter with but a handful of items. Like myself, perhaps the elder has a small refrigerator or perhaps, like myself, lots of time and she or he knows that the good parent will rule and the good child will follow, again and again, guiding and supporting through several trips to the supermarket each and every week. One can see the pride in the parent's eyes. MY son, MY daughter, taking care of ME. And, at the very same time, the face of the child, trying desperately to maintain the patience, the look of "I have all the time in the world for you today, and for the rest of your days". Mother or Dad looks wonderful for their age. Not a care in the current world. Yet, I know that there might have been a few "moments" before entering the supermarket. Orientation to time and place, rearrangement of hairstyles, application of make up, selection of outfits suitable for being in public, appropriate for the day's weather. There probably was a final check list. Do you have your keys, your glasses, your purse, wallet....your money? Have you made a list? Go to the bathroom one more time before we leave the house please. One more time. Try.
I study people. I am keen on faces. They tell stories. I love stories. I am not easily fooled nor am I easily impressed. I see pages and pages of life in faces. This has been a hard Winter and it's the faces of the caretakers, hardly able to take care of themselves, that tell bigger stories. They shop, they tend, they cook, they clean, they comfort, bathe, medicate, they listen to the same tales, answer the same questions, over and over and over again. And some of them, some of them are old enough to now be taken-care-of and there's no end in sight. Read the obituaries if you do not believe me. "Oh, she was so young.....only 90!" And I ask, who's taking care of the care-takers? The real warriors. You know them, they're the people in the supermarket, fake smiles, worn-out but ":happy" to be helping. How many slips and falls have they prevented already? How many times have they shoveled the driveway, scattered ice melt along the paths? How many house fires have they seen, about to happen? How many utterly humiliating moments have they forestalled?
The original broadcast of a then-popular T.V. show called Queen for a Day, was in the earliest days of television, after a successful run on radio. The show opened with host Jack Bailey asking the audience and viewer at home "Would YOU like to be Queen for a day?". The contestants were a group of women who came to the show, seeking to win prizes after pouring their hearts out in a display of public humiliation, each recounting their stories of recent financial and emotional hard times that each had suffered. Their faces showed their pain as each was asked what it was they most needed and why she felt worthy of the title "Queen for a Day" today. Some needed help with a sick child or disabled family member, others simple things like new appliances that they could not afford but needed desperately. At the end of the show, they sat in a row and the audience "voted" by use of an applause meter, on the woman found most worthy. She was crowned, given roses and a sable-trimmed velvet robe as she was escorted to her throne and told of her prizes, the top one being that for which she had expressed a need during her interview. Following that gift, there were many others from the sponsors and of course, as each was revealed, the tears flowed from the gracious and humble, degraded of human spirit, newly crowned "queen". As the show closed, Jack Bailey signed off with his trademark: ""This is Jack Bailey, wishing we could make every woman a queen, for every single day." Of course, it was hokey and of course it was exploitative, but you wanna know something? There's a part of me that would love to see somewhat of a come-back. There's a part of me that would love to know that somehow, somewhere, someone would know the need and recognize that there are queens and kings out there who deserve the title and there will be many more to come as ninety remains the new seventy. That there will be eighty year olds taking care of parents, Yes, there will. And, as I waltz through the supermarket, I daydream and I see another story. I see a younger version of Jack Bailey, marching through the aisle, right past the dairy section, glittering jeweled crown, roses and red velvet robe in hand, stopping one of the warriors dead in her tired tracks with the big question....."Would YOU like........."