Hey there. Yes, you. I’m talking to you sitting on your couch scrolling absentmindedly through the Facebook. I know what you’re doing. You’re procrastinating that grocery trip you have to make before All The People show up to your house for The Very Big Feast that is also sometimes called Thanksgiving. I know. It’s daunting and exhausting to even think about it. The masses will be out and about doing the very same thing, and just your luck, you WILL get the buggy with the squeaky wheel and the sticky handle. Them’s the breaks, kid. So, I get your desire to postpone the horrifying task of grocery shopping until the very last possible minute. But I think I have something that will make you up to the task.
I thought you might like to come with me today and accompany Big John and Charm to the Sam’s Club. It is just entertaining enough that it might do the trick, and inspire you to tackle your own grocery list.
Yes? You would? Great!
Now, step one: Walk through the door.
If you’re with Charm, you’ll notice that she already has the card out and ready. She flashes it quickly at the friendly attendant without slowing down a tiny bit. I doubt they ever actually see her identification, but no one has ever questioned her. My mother marches into Sam’s Club with all the authority and confidence of a general riding in to retrieve the prisoners of war. The battle’s already over. She has a list and a route. She’s here to collect her spoils.
As am I, frankly. There are two reasons I go to Sam’s Club. Neither have anything to do with grocery shopping. Years ago, I learned that if I volunteered to accompany Charm on her regular Sam’s run, I could coax her into paying me in a ginormous Coke and a soft, cinnamon pretzel. There’s little I won’t do for a cinnamon pretzel.
If you’re tagging along with Charm, you’ll need to step lively, please and thank you. Her legs are short, but they are quick and determined. Don’t stop to smell the roses, and don’t you even THINK about looking at the electronic section. There is invariably a sweet-smiling salesman there waiting for the teeniest flash of eye contact to greenlight him into a sales pitch. Charm does not have time for this, so please keep your head down until you pass the section with books and outdoor furniture.
Note: If you’re with Big John, this previous information is irrelevant.
Now, the second thing I go to the Sam’s Club for is the conversation. I walk beside my mama and tell her all the things I’ve been thinking on recently. So if you have anything that you’d like to get off your chest, now is the time. This L-shaped walk between the eager sales guy and the produce section is the land of grab and go. This is the part of our stroll that requires the least amount of critical thinking on Charm’s part. This is where her attention is evenly split, and now is your chance. After this, the conversation will narrow to jokes and bits that are purely for your own benefit and entertainment. Once you catch your first glimpse of fresh fruit and veggies, she loses a significant amount of her attention span. Don’t even think about discussing anything serious until you round the corner into the aisle with the canned beans. She just won’t hear you.
I have said this before, but it bears repeating: there are people who work their entire lives to have the kind of concentration my mother has in the Sam’s produce section. Experts write books about it and sell gobs of them with how-to instructions printed neatly inside. And she just has it. When she is examining heads of cauliflower, the rest of the world simply doesn’t exist. It’s like a scene in a movie when the main character is so lost in thought and their surroundings just fade away behind some kind of dream. She goes somewhere entirely different when she’s concentrating on getting the best looking box of spring mix. Sometimes I wonder what that other world must look like, how it must feel to escape the confines of this concrete warehouse of household necessities into a calm and quiet place to really examine the price difference between different types of cheese. I usually stand with my feet firmly planted on the ground, while she floats inside her own head, coming back to reality only when she sees something so attention worthy that she’ll have to point it out to me. “Now, look at that, Elizabeth,” she’ll say. “That’s one of those pre-made salads. It’s got all the little things that go with it. The dressing and all that. That might be something you might want to try.” Or “Oh! Look how cute the packaging is on these cherry tomatoes! Ugh! I am a sucker for some cute packaging!”
One of my favorite parts about the Sam’s Club are the little sample carts scattered throughout the store. There are usually about three or four in this section alone. I wander to and from my mother’s cart to the folks wrapped in hair-nets offering me tiny cups of flavored popcorn or carrots and a new veggie dip. Not Charm, though. When she is in her shopping zone, not even the tantalizing smell of a tiny cup of cider turns her head. It is otherworldly.
Now, once we move passed the bread and into the non-perishables, you can pick up your conversation here with a real hope that she’ll join back in. However, at this point in my journey
I’m usually too lost in a few bits or jokes I started when I was my only audience. Charm’s fog lifts, and it doesn’t take her long to be 100% over it. She just spent an exorbitant amount of energy back there – mental and emotional – and she’s losing steam quickly. We’re back to the land of grab and go, and we are moving fast so please keep up.
We’re nearing the end of our Sam’s Club route with Charm. In days past, this is the part when I’d actually have an opportunity to be helpful. We’d wheel the loaded down cart to the nearest (and least crowded) conveyor belt and unload every piece from inside the treasure chest only to watch it be scanned and dropped back into another buggy. Now, though, we’re in a new era of apps and technology. And let me tell you something – this thrills Charm to NO END. You’re saying that she can go into Sam’s, scan her own items, and walk right out without talking to another soul? That is music to her introverted ears.
Because Charm is typically the valiant grocery leader in our family, I should’ve known that things would end poorly when Big John and I ventured in on our own a few weeks ago. When we started at the pretzel counter and actually sat down to enjoy our snack, I was lulled into a false sense of security. “Great!” I thought. “This will be way less stressful than grocery shopping with Charm. Look how laid back we are.”
Even as we got started on the actual task at hand (in the PRODUCE SECTION NO LESS. What are we? SAVAGES?), I still held to the belief that this would be a perfectly lovely afternoon. But I was wrong. I was so very wrong.
We had been standing at the butcher’s counter for nearly fifteen minutes, my dad staring with a look of consternation into the freezer box below, when I realized we were in deep, deep trouble without Charman Leigh. Knowing how much time we had already lost in this section alone, I left Dad to his thoughts and started on other parts of the list. Where Charm needed not an ounce of help, Dad would need all the help I could give.
Eventually, we made it out. We lived to tell the tale, although Big John always like to include the defense, “If you hadn’t have been buggin’ me and putting it all on Instagram, I would’ve been fine.” He’s still in denial about the trauma and my heroic contribution in getting us out in one piece.
There now. Don’t you feel better? Don’t you feel inclined to brave the cold for some canned pumpkin and jellied cranberry sauce?
I knew you would.
Best of luck! Call Charm if you need help finding anything while you’re out. Call Big John if you need help with…well, literally anything else.