Reflections on Grocery Shopping

As documented, Maureen was gone on a lark for four days this week. The refrigerator was bare. i put off eating anything healthy for a couple of days, but before she returned Thursday, i decided to go to the grocery and fill the larder.

Ralph’s (folks back home should think “Kroger”) is about a mile down and up the hills from us. Maureen goes there all the time for the usual stuff, hits Costco for bulk items, and then goes to Trader Joe’s for her gourmet specials. When required while i was in the Navy, i went to the Navy commissaries.

Maureen does not like the commissaries, primarily from her introduction in 1983. We married. i left for the other coast within ten days and in another month, i sailed east for almost eight months. She remained in the Southwest corner where her career blossomed as an account executive, a high-end office interior firm. She dressed the part.

One weekday, she decided to go for a new venture, grocery shopping at the Navy Commissary at Naval Station, San Diego, known by seafarers as “32nd Street.” It was days of yore and the Navy was a bit different then compared to now.

Pay was only a smidgeon of what Navy folks get paid now. There were only a few very senior officers who drove Mercedes and i only knew of one officer, my good friend from Lebanon, LCDR Earl Major, who drove a Porsche. Very few of the enlisted owned their own cars and most of those were used. Many single sailors and officers as well lived aboard their ships. All of us received our pay checks or cash as we had indicated on the fifteenth and thirtieth of each month. Credit cards other than American Express, which many officers possessed were pretty much non-existent. Direct deposits and auto-payments were years away.

So married sailors lived from paycheck to paycheck. The two monthly paydays was the days they went shopping…to the commissary, which was then, the Navy version of Costco. They would stock up with the staples, enough to get them to the next payday. Wives did the shopping at the commissary.

So Maureen, unfamiliar with this phenomena, decided to go shopping at lunch to the commissary on the 30th. As usual for her work, she was dressed to the nines. Then, the commissary was a cavernous quonset hut. She showed her dependent (hah!) identification card at the gate with her recently acquired base decal, entered through the gate, and parked in a full parking lot.

She picked up a handful of items and looked for the checkout line. It snaked around two of the aisles of food. There was no quick check out lines for a small number of items back then. She found herself behind a very large woman carrying a baby who was pushing one cart in front of her and pulling one behind her. Both were piled high with Twinkie’s, sugar-coated, frosted, flavored cereals and cartons of milk, cheeses, potatoes, and all things not necessarily healthy.

Maureen quietly placed her few items on the shelf beside her, turned around and walked out as unobtrusively as she could.

The only times she has returned was at my insistence, and i have given up trying.

* * *

After USS Yosemite returned to Mayport in 1984 and after we returned to the Southwest corner in 1985, i did my share of the cooking, especially after i completed my Naval service (with our daughter born that very day) in 1989. Along with that, i did most of the grocery shopping…at the Navy commissary until Maureen retired. Later in her career, i realized Maureen liked to cook and that was a break from her workday, and it soothed her. i had no problem relinquishing the kitchen duties to her. After all, she was and remains a gourmet cook. i am not.

But while she worked, i continued with shopping. i began to go on Sunday mornings. Church goers did not show up until after church. The commissary was less crowded in those hours. i not only shopped, i discovered several pleasures. The Navy commissary is a wonderful place to people watch. Folks of all sizes, nationalities, different tastes, hit the aisles with purpose. i realized i should not get in races, push to get past a crowd at one item, to take it easy and just watch the goings-on.

It was also fun to check out the shelves. With the variety of folks shopping the many variations on things to eat, and especially things to flavor what is eaten, my journeys were an education. Sometimes, i would shake my head in wonder. Sometimes, i would laugh. Sometimes, i found something i wanted to try.

This Thursday, i opted to go to the nearby Ralph’s. The commissary was further away and i had a bunch of chores and straightening up to do before picking up Maureen at the airport. Still, the experience of going up and down the aisles brought back memories of how much i enjoyed my commissary trips. They are mostly gone.

Of course, i do go back occasionally. You see, the North Island and 32nd Street Navy Commissaries are the only two places in the Southwest corner that carry Tennessee Pride Country Sausage.

And that makes my now short, quick trips worthwhile.

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