What the Deli Counter Teaches Me

Barbara - Wicomico, Virginia
Entered on August 23, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65
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Every week, I go grocery shopping for my mother. She’s 81 now, and she doesn’t drive anymore. I’ve come to believe there’s a life lesson to be learned at the deli counter.

Like everyone else I know, I’m a busy person. I teach, I write, I drive my teenager daughter around. My husband and I care for feral cats. The truth is, I don’t always feel like braving the Saturday morning rush at the grocery store.

Mostly though, I am OK with it. By this point, I can zoom the cart through the aisles in an efficient way, because I know exactly my mother’s tastes: three bananas; Pearson’s mint patties for the candy dish; and above all, the rye bread had better be seeded! I enjoy it because Mom wants me to do it. Where she lives, she can get free shopping service, but it’s not the same. I hope that’s because I shop with care. It’s a small way to give back the love she has given me for 52 years.

Yet in the midst of all this good feeling is my nemesis: the deli counter. Friday nights, when my Mom emails me the grocery list, my heart sinks a little if I spot a familiar request: hard salami and Swiss cheese, half-pound each, sliced thin! A small enough wish, and I know it’s absurd for me to dread going to the deli counter. But I do.

At the store, I careen my cart toward the deli. I loom over the shoulders of people ahead of me in line, gauging the length of their lists and fearing the worst: a person who is hosting a big party and who chats up the deli workers! Once, during a long wait, I lost control. I glared at the nice lady behind the counter, and just stopped myself from demanding to know why there was only one meat slicer and only one cheese slicer in such a big store!

How does this happen? How can I spend time teaching and writing about humans’ responsibility to other animals, and to each other, only to be defeated by… hard salami and Swiss cheese?

The good news is, I’m getting better. I’m learning to take what comes at the deli counter, to realize that I can’t control what happens. Today, the line may be extra-long, and the person ahead of me may monopolize the cheese slicer. If that happens, I’ll take a calming breath. After all, I’ll get where I’m going next, soon enough.

Some days, I glimpse other 40-and-50-somethings I know, pushing their carts in parallel aisles. We’re all shopping for our elderly parents. I wonder, do these folks, too, think three decades ahead as they shop? Do they wonder what it will feel like to get old? I do. I wonder whether my daughter will care for me with love. Judging from her good heart, I believe she will. Still, when the time comes, I’ll send her, first thing, to the deli counter.