Normally I consider grocery shopping to be a chore, but I actually enjoy going on the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving. Sure, I like the festivity in the air, but I also like to watch the clientele. Solid core cooks have already bought most of their supplies before the big day, so on that Wednesday afternoon, a lot of what you see are men and teenagers wandering around with lists.
The teenagers and younger men are usually on a critical mission for supplies that the cooks assumed they had plenty of but didn’t: like the vanilla that always runs out at the worst possible moment or a can of pineapple, which will be listed next to the word chunks in big letters, because you can’t make a fruit salad with pineapple mush. These men take their time standing in the aisle staring at the shelves, partly to make sure they get the right thing so they’ll score the full set of points for the errand, but mostly because they’re in no rush to get back to the den of crazy and whatever other chores await them.
The older men go up and down every aisle, marveling at all that’s changed since they were last in a grocery store, this time a year ago. They’re usually looking for something obscure: for example, today a man picked up a jar of mincemeat and read the label, then read the list, then read the label again, then muttered to himself, “But there’s no meat in that.” The wives of these poor men just made up a vital need to get them out of the kitchen. The beauty of the wild mincemeat chase is that these men can be counted on never to ask anyone for help, providing a good hour of peaceful cooking time before he returns.
The holiday patrons also include the occasional couple who had decided to forgo Thanksgiving because their kids were off to college and not coming home until Christmas this year, but decided at the last minute to enjoy a dinner for two. Each thing they pick up is accompanied by a tale: Oh, potatoes, Katie always mashes the potatoes. Or, remember the time when Johnny dumped cranberry sauce all over your mother’s Irish linen?
Going through the check-out line is nice on this day, because people are all wishing each other “Happy Thanksgiving”, and no one has to worry about whether they’re saying the right thing or if they should have wished a “Merry Meal-sharing” instead. Even people who try to make the holiday into an opportunity for enlightenment have a hard time getting offended by a hearty “Happy Thanksgiving!”. Because on this day, anyone can give thanks about anything and to whomever or whatever they wish.
This Wednesday afternoon is also the time when the last of the donation bins are picked up to go wherever the massive volunteer meals will be cooked on Thursday. I offered my time to every mobile meal service and charitable dinner venue in my new home city and was told that they are all full up with volunteers. So I’m thankful this year that there are plenty of people who not only think of those less fortunate during their holiday, but also choose to spend a couple of dollars and a couple of hours doing something about it.