Life Notes: The Supermarket Chronicles
Love and war in the food aisles

The first time my husband and I went to the supermarket together, we had just returned from our Bermuda honeymoon where both of us had gotten terrible sunburns.

We headed for the aisle with balms and lotions, and he seized the super-sized bottle at the very same time I was reaching for the tiny one. There we stood, about to have our first argument about what to buy and in what quantity. The honeymoon was clearly over.

I soon learned that when it comes to supplies, my husband goes for heft. I prefer petite. And while I am relentlessly practical – “waste-not, want-not” was drummed into me – Vic, never a Boy Scout, somehow adopted the “always be prepared” motto.

For 54 years, our supermarket moments have been a steady reminder that we were not meant to grocery shop together, no matter our lofty marriage vows about forever joining our lives.

I have shocked my husband, because it turns out I’m a brand slut. I have little or no brand loyalty except when it comes to certain very specific hair products and face creams. Vic, however, is so brand loyal it took months to console him when his exotic toothpaste brand was discontinued.

And then there’s another monumental point of contention: cost.

For my guy, the word “sale” is suspect. I, on the other hand, am seduced by anything resembling a clearance price. A marked-down product is immediately appealing, an affirmation I’m one smart cookie getting a bargain.

At dinner parties, Vic loves to tell grossly exaggerated stories about how I would buy dog food on sale even though we don’t have a dog (not true) and that once, at a yard sale, I did buy a certain bargain Porsche hubcap although we did not own a Porsche (true).

Of course the logical approach for any sane couple with this emotional divide would be to shop separately. For several decades, we did. I nominated myself as first-string shopper; he was the weekend sub. It worked for a while.

But on his Sunday forays, Vic slyly managed to slip in those inflated-priced, super-advertised brands. And when those bulk merchandise stores really proliferated, my Boy Scout saw to it that we were inundated with gigantic supplies of soap, sundries and toilet tissue.

But in a long marriage, one learns not to directly voice disapproval. Instead, show it via facial expressions that reflect displeasure and a certain conspicuous slamming down of the item on the kitchen counter.

On the plus side, we’re the gold standard when it comes to supplies for any emergency or natural disaster. Our adult children are sometimes seen taking off with our oversupply of light bulbs, tissues and jars of chunky-style peanut butter. And the grandchildren know where the giant packages of Reese’s Miniatures are stashed. They make out like bandits.

In recent retirement years, my husband has happily done more of the shopping and, unlike careless me, does it with organized lists.

As age mellows us, we’ve been working on our supermarket and warehouse outlet incompatibility issues, just as women’s magazines suggest that we do.

Sometimes, we even make excursions to Costco together. We’re the couple standing in the produce aisle animatedly discussing why we need bags of oranges that weigh more than a small child. We’re also in the vitamin aisle deciding whether either of us could possibly live long enough to get through a proposed purchase of multivitamins.

These excursions remind us that as much as we love one another, we still have work to do. But there’s been some progress.

Recently, Vic carried home an off-brand cereal. I suspect it was just because he knew it would make me happy. And on a foray to the supermarket, I presented him with the unconscionably overpriced, much-hyped brand of coffee for the very same reason. If that’s not love, then I don’t know what is.

February 2015
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