Grocery Shopping and Stranger Danger

I have a confession; I have a crippling fear of grocery shopping. I brought this on myself; it is NOT my mother’s fault. (Dr. Freud’s couch is available for the next session.) This is not a result of some childhood trauma of getting lost in the supermarket. My sister was the one who had to keep a hand on the cart- until she wandered away with the cart. After that Mom used two connected Velcro bracelets to chain ME to the Wanderer, knowing I could pull her back to the cart when she spotted and pursued something shiny.

No, I brought this totally rational fear of grocery shopping was started because I can’t find the boundary between pleasant common courtesy and that aura that attracts crazies with bug zapper strength. In Texas it is perfectly normal to greet another human being with, “Good morning!” or a lady with, “What fun shoes!” as you wait in line. In other places I’ve lived, a “good morning” is NOT normal from a stranger. I can adjust to new environments, but I CAN’T keep myself from smiling at someone when I make eye contact. This is a personal problem. To quote Steel Magnolias, “I am pleasant! I just saw Drum Eatenton at the Piggly Wiggly and I SMILED at the S.O.B! I couldn’t help myself!” I feel your pain, Ouisa. I can’t just not smile or be rude. Those who suggest such a thing have clearly never met my mother. She can tell you to go to Hell in such a way that you’ll look forward to the trip and invite a friend. Nature or nurture, I just can’t be rude to a stranger off-hand. I’ve tried.

I first admitted that this was a problem in 2009 after my first trip to the Fort Benning Commissary. It was that big just-moved-in trip for pantry staples. As I rounded my cart around the corner of the baking aisle HE spotted me- or rather, my shirt.

“Texas A&M!” a life-weathered 60 or so man bellowed. No problem. Smile, eye contact. “Howdy.”

“Did you go there?”  I smiled, replied in the affirmative and politely held up my ring to show that I did NOT purchase my shirt at Wal-mart. No one buys at Aggie shirt because they like the football team- let’s just be honest.

“I knew a guy that went there! He was a medic. Did you study medicine?” This man is now following me as I collect my flour and sugar. “No, I studied Education and Political Science”. “Are you military?” “No, I am a spouse.” “Oh! Well, that’s great! A&M seems to have a good program.  This medic did a great job patching me up.” This man is now blocking me with his rather tall, large body. There is no hope of reaching the vegetable oil. As I try to bob and weave he (prepare yourself) lifts his shirt and shows me his shrapnel wounds.

A poor, unsuspecting woman turned down the aisle too and this man who presumably knows me, is bearing a hairy pot-belly and loudly talking about the Viet Cong. I gave her a warning look that screamed, “RUN! I don’t know this man!” I’ve never seen someone grab Blended Spices and run with such fervor. No doubt she had the manager raise the terror alert.

Shocked and slightly embarrassed, I regained my composure and said, “Wow. I am certainly glad you were cared for and made it home. Thank you for your service. Have a great day.”

“Oh, I tried to dodge the draft…” I turned the aisle and quickly grabbed milk and ran for the self-check-out. My appalled inner Texan manner-fairy was overruled when my danger alert informed her that he was following me. I arrived home harried and decided to never wear an Aggie shirt shopping again. I literally changed before going out a few times. (Insert snarky comments from my non-Aggie friends.)

This was only the beginning. Pregnancy, many will confirm, brings out the finest perfection of stupidity offered by the human race. The stupidity is then forced upon a population that could most likely have a hormonal surge, bludgeon the commentator with a can of tomato paste and be exonerated by an understanding or terrified jury. I finally decided to have friends shop for me after I was detained on my way out the door by clerks for shoplifting. I stood confused as I was accused of stealing a watermelon and smuggling it out under my shirt.

Of course, shopping with babies and children is an adventure; my first outing alone with a 4 week old attracted a mother-daughter jogging team that made 3 passes to insist that I get on the waiting list for the local academy. I should have kept a recorder with me for all the advice on diapers, colic, and napping advice I gathered in my first sleep-deprived months. This of course, is not unusual. It just maintains my healthy fear.

Thankfully, my loving husband usually goes to the commissary for me after work to help me avoid a 30 minute drive and an errand with a baby…except for last week. After a trip to the hospital pharmacy I pulled into the Commissary alone, gleefully feeling 20 pounds lighter without my son on my hip. Things were going beautifully- aside from the usual traffic jams. I spotted a sale on chicken and pulled up next to a 30 something blonde with her daughter and visiting niece. From about 2 feet away I see her turn and declare, “Wow! Those are some large breasts!” I raised my eyebrows, slightly smiled, and turned.

She was immediately horrified, which prevented me from saying, “Why, thank you.” She put her face in her palm and declared, “I did this yesterday with the movers. I’ve had my bedframe since I was 16 and told them it’s been around the block a few times. I did NOT mean it the way they took it!” Poor dear. She was the only person to speak to me during the trip, and unbeknownst to her, she began a step in my recovery. I had a humorous, non-threatening exchange that lasted only a minute.

I arrived home with a beaming smile, groceries hanging from my arms, declaring to my husband that I had a great trip… who was understandably confused as I was dripping wet from the torrential downpour that had overpowered my feeble umbrella.

There may be hope to overcoming this fear. Maybe. The fact is, I will HAVE to shop with a toddler and pregnant waddle while my husband is overseas. I am hoping not to have a regression.  If I don’t overcome this fear soon, I may be teaching my son to shout, “Stranger Danger”. Sadly, if someone lifted their shirt to me now, he would just lean and poke their belly button. As with most people overcoming fears, I am prompted toward recovery by those I love. My son will need to be fed, so to the grocery store I will go. Baby steps.

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