Julia Goes Grocery Shopping For The First Time
Julia had not shopped for food for many years. Donald liked to order food—what he called “comestibles”-- from a quite expensive food service that delivered clients’ orders to their homes. Of course there were times when Julia had to buy milk or bread, but when both Raphael and Alan Michael went off to boarding school those times dwindled down to nothing. Julia never even put groceries away; when they arrived there were always people around, hired people, to unload the brown boxes and put the groceries in their assigned places.
Now, living above Murray Pharmacy, Julia had two rooms plus a bathroom. She had a living room with a couch and a comfortable recliner, the couch becoming a bed at night; the other was a kitchen which held a small folding table with two wooden chairs. The floor in the kitchen, when Julia first came to Murray Avenue, was made up of dirty blue and white linoleum squares; the table did not stand firmly on its four legs and moved from side to side. But Julia loved her kitchen. Since her student days at Carnegie Tech, she had always shared a kitchen with Donald.
The walk to Star Market, located at the junction of Murray and Forward Avenues, was an easy one for Julia in any kind of weather.
Before Julia went to Star Market for her initial shopping trip, she scrubbed the kitchen—floors, cabinets, refrigerator (inside as well as outside). When she moved to Murray Avenue it was late in the autumn, a fine day for walking, and Julia would never forget how she walked along, that first time, looking at houses, then standing on the Murray Avenue Bridge, looking down at the cars speeding along the Parkway.
“I’m free,” she thought.
However, she had a bad moment once she arrived at the market. She realized that she would need many items, too many for her to carry herself. She told herself: I’m spoiled. All these years of Donald ordering everything and I never had anything to do with running the house—maybe it’s too late for me to try anything different. But the thought of somehow “failing” in this new way of living gave her fresh energy. She would do anything rather than fail. Let’s see, she thought, how do people go places and carry things when they don’t have cars?
They call a cab, that’s what they do. They get a taxi. Standing at the corner, on Forward Avenue, Julia saw a phone booth. She walked into it and found a Pittsburgh telephone book hanging on a chain. Looking under Yellow Cab, she found the number she needed and asked for a taxi to be sent to Star Market, requesting that it come in two hours. Julia knew in advance how exciting her shopping was going to be and gave herself extra time to savor it.
Upon entering the market, Julia took a cart and asked herself if there was anything she dreaded about this shopping trip. Was there anything she should just get over with before the enjoyable part began? But there was nothing like that. Even managing to get what she needed within a certain amount of money made her heart vibrate with pleasure.
Julia knew that most of the sane people in this world have times when they doubt their mental stability. She also knew that she, herself, was among these people; the thought that buying groceries would make her heart vibrate sounded ridiculous. Buying groceries: most people do it. So why was this simple experience so inviting to her?
“It’s because I’m free now,” said Julia to herself. “I’m a free person.”
There were so many moments in those two hours to think about and laugh about as well. Standing in the canned goods aisle, looking at all the cans on display, the colors and pictures on the labels. Del Monte was the prettiest, she felt, so into her cart went Del Monte corn, zucchini, peas. Julia noted that these were among the higher priced cans in the display, but liking a label was reason enough for her to choose them. Then the coffee aisle with its wonderful scents—which would be best for her? She liked the package that “Eight O’Clock Coffee,” came in, the bag made of heavy red paper and a picture of a clock on the front. Meat did not mean much to Julia, so she plodded along by the meat counter and took ground beef and chicken without thought. The cheese counters, though, almost did her in. Old English Slices, Velveeta, Friendship Brand cottage cheese, Kraft Swiss Slices, parmesan, feta. Julia ended up buying five kinds of cheese with bread and crackers to go along with them. She also particularly enjoyed the household cleaning aisle. She was surprised to find so many brands of cleaning agents. Wow, thought Julia. American do love to be clean. She chose Murphy’s Wood Oil soap for her bare wooden floors and lemon scented furniture polish, choosing both again because she liked the labels on the containers. Finally, sweet stuff. Oh boy, Julia thought. This is going to be good. According to Donald, she was too plump and he was always trying to make her go on a diet. So in order to annoy him, not only did she wear her silver and gold hair down to her waist, but she stayed plump by eating whatever she wanted. Now, she didn’t know how she looked; food and weight and body image made up such a confusing syndrome. Probably, the best thing to do, she thought, was to leave herself alone on this issue and simply enjoy what there was to be enjoyed. She bought a giant-sized Hershey bar.
Julia was good at adding things up in her head, so she knew that by the time it came to check out, she didn’t overspend her budget. The yellow cab arrived; into it went all her brown bags; the driver even helped her drag them up the stairs. Julia arranged her cans and bottles and jars leisurely, at her own pace, wondering what to make herself for dinner. Cheese, she thought, a bit of each of them plus some fresh bread.
“I’m free,” she thought. “I’m a free person.”