Aisles Need More Smiles

            Word spread quickly on social media that grocery stores would be open at specific times for senior citizens to do their shopping. I thought, “This is great.” Then I saw the hours that “special shopping” was being offered to seniors – butt-crack dawn.

            Why is it that so many believe senior citizens are up enjoying life at the crack of dawn? No doubt there are many people whose daily habits include rising from the warmth and comfort of their beds at dawn. But these people aren’t all over the age of 65. In fact, I’d speculate that most of them are young people on their way to work or school, when those venues were fully functioning.

            Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining so much as pointing out a fact – old people don’t necessarily like being awake at dawn much less going grocery shopping in the dark. Heck, my 80-something-year-old neighbor prides herself on staying up late and sleeping in, bless her bohemian soul. But I thought it was my duty to take advantage of the opportunity to be six-feet from my peers searching the shelves for an off-brand can of beans. Truth be told, I was mining the experience for this column.

            It was depressing. People didn’t look very pleased to be up and about. The public-address system in the store wasn’t playing music. The lighting was too bright, casting deep shadows across the elder faces. I thought, “Don’t they know that pink tones favor older skin?” I was wishing I had taken the time to fix myself up with a layer of make-up. On second thought, it simply doesn’t matter. No one was looking at me anyway, not even my husband.

            Mornings can be a difficult time of the day for seniors suffering from mobility issues. Heck, I’m usually not fully functional until 10:00 am. Yet there I was pushing a grocery carriage along, keeping my distance as I tried to put my best foot forward, literally, and hunt down what I could for the pantry at home.

            People seemed scared. Was I the only one making eye contact and smiling? Pleasantries weren’t being exchanged. These people were on a mission, some looking rather desperate as they collected products and dropped them noisily into the baskets.

            I’ll pause here to say the employees of the store were great. At that time of the day, the staff were filling shelves as fast as they could. Aisles were cluttered with pallets of non-perishable items. There was plenty to select from but, for many of the shoppers I watched, these were not the items they were seeking. Disappoint was on full view.

            As the clock ticked away the moments allocated to the aged, it was clear that a silly, fun, lighthearted story was slipping away from me. It began to feel more surreal and sad by the moment. What was I doing out there? After all my husband, the Great Gatherer historically, is the grocery shopper in our little family. He’s the one who literally brings home the bacon. I occasionally join him in what I call “recreational food shopping,” but this early-morning experience had been far from recreational. It was a sociology class.

            What happens to us when our world is tipped away from all we considered to be normal? It didn’t seem to be bringing out the best in us at that moment. Fight or flight was in the air. Or, was it just me seeing things through brown-colored glasses. Give me the rose color any day.

            At 7:30 am the doors were opened to all-comers. The younger crowd poured in through the opened doors, each and every one of them focused on the task at hand. I smiled at them. No one smiled back. I wanted to cry. Maybe they thought I was just a senile old lady. That’s how I probably looked.

            I’ve only been back to the large-chain grocery store once in the last three weeks. I’ve always supported small, local retail outlets and now plan on doing so exclusively whenever possible. I’ll try the curbside service many are offering, while remaining mindful that germs may cling to any surface. It’s important to wipe down everything that comes into your home, then wash your hands after handling materials from the outside world. No, I’m not being paranoid by the way.

            If I’m up at dawn again any time soon, I hope it’s because I write best during the earliest part of the day, not because I need to buy milk. But if you are shopping at dawn, as you go up and down the aisles, I hope you remember to look up, make eye contact, and smile at your fellow shopper. You never know whose life might be improved by simply seeing your smile.

This Surreal Mattapoisett Life

By Marilou Newell

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