Down East 2013 ©
Last Thursday, I’m standing at my station at the A&P, register three, when who do I see in the produce section but James Brown. Not James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, the hardest working man in show business. No, I’m talking about James Brown, CPA, father of three and the hardest working accountant in Mahoosuc Mills. Well, since his father retired, he’s the only accountant in Mahoosuc Mills! He may be sharp with numbers, but there he was, hovering over the lettuce, looking perplexed.
James married a gal he met at Dartmouth, Courtney Van Buren. The two of them worked in Boston until they were ready to start a family. Then James moved back to Mahoosuc Mills with his bride. Courtney elected not to change her name, so all the kids are hyphenated: Van Buren-Brown. Seems kind of cumbersome to me, but to each his own. Courtney telecommutes to some software development-type job in Bangor. I know that means she works from home, but I hear the word “telecommute,” and all I can think of is in Harry Potter, when they travel by chimney. I picture Courtney disappearing down the phone line, and re-appearing with a bang and a puff of smoke somewheres in Bangor.
Because James works in town, Courtney occasionally has him pick up groceries on his way home. Oh, it’s painful to watch. James just doesn’t have the temperament for it. “There are too many variables,” he told me once.
So there’s James, his list in hand, beads of sweat on his forehead. kind of pacing back and forth in front of the iceberg, romaine, red leaf, green leaf, spring mix, herb mix, and hydroponics. (Not bad for our little A&P, huh?)
Get anything but the iceberg, I’m thinking. I got nothing against iceberg myself, but I know Courtney does. The only time I’ve seen her buy it was when she was having a “retro party,” as she called it.
“That sounds interesting,” I says to her. “What are you serving?”
“For appetizers, pigs in a blanket and celery stuffed with cream cheese, followed by pork chops cooked in cream of mushroom soup (Have you ever heard of such a thing?), scalloped potatoes and big wedges of iceberg lettuce smothered in Russian dressing. And for dessert (Are you ready?), Twinkies, Suzy-Q’s and Ring Dings.”
I’m thinking, throw in some ambrosia and it sounds like our menu for the LeClair family reunion.
James sighs, takes out his cell phone and calls Courtney.
Remember when grocery shopping was easy? I mean, I sympathize with James! Used to be iceberg was your only choice. You’d pick up the first one that still had a little life in it.
After a brief conversation, James puts his phone back in his pocket, grabs the red leaf lettuce, looks at his list and moves on.
Now, I’ve heard it said that in the grocery store, all the stuff you really need, the stuff that’s good for you, is found around the perimeter: produce, fish, meat, dairy. It’s going up and down that aisles that gets you into trouble: cookies, crackers, potato chips, soda pop. Frozen foods in general, ice cream in particular, and Wonder bread. Makes sense, right? Until you start thinking about it.
I mean, what about dog food? Dog food is a necessity for Scamp, and that’s down aisle six. Then there’s toilet paper, Kleenex, paper towels, handiwrap, aluminum foil and zip lock bags (aisle seven). What about whole wheat flour, cornmeal, spices and EVOO (aisle three)? Just try making a Rachel Ray recipe without it. Oatmeal, which lowers cholesterol. Maple syrup. That’s a staple in our house. And aisle four, international foods! Canned beans, salsa, brown rice. What about condiments (aisle two)? What would life be without mustard, mayo, catsup, pickles and olives? Yeah, I know, olives are all fat, but it’s good fat like avocados and nuts. Which, as I see it, is like putting a deposit into your good cholesterol bank account.
Back in produce, James is staring at the apples. Good luck, dear! He sighs and takes out the cell phone again. Pink Lady’s are my personal favorite. Then, in this order: Crispin Pink, Braeburn and Fuji. Except if I’m using the apples for cooking, then I like Macintosh or Granny Smith.
James puts the phone back in his pocket and continues to stare at the apples. He looks pleadingly in my direction. “Courtland?,” he asks.
“The red ones at the end of the aisle, to your left. They’re on special this week.”
“Thanks, Ida,” he says, tearing off one of them plastic bags from the roll, and struggling to get the top open.
Wait a minute here! Going back to this perimeter of the store thing. Butter and cheese are loaded with fat: bad fat! And they are located on the perimeter. And we’re not supposed to eat a lot of red meat. Then there’s mercury in the salmon. I can never remember if the farm raised is worse or better than the wild. Again, on the perimeter. It’s so confusing!
Like, there are some experts who say that instead of restricting your diet, it’s best to widen it and eat a variety of food. They recommend eating your way up and down the food pyramid, varying the texture and color. In moderation, of course, always in moderation. Personally, I think moderation is overrated!
I finish ringing out Nancy Landry and turn back to the produce section. James is still there, looking lost. I switch off my number three register light and walk over to him.
“Help,” he says, handing me the list.
“Let’s see. What do we have here? Parsley. I believe Courtney prefers curly leaf. There, James, to your right. What’s this? 3 V.R. tom. Hmmm. That must be vine ripe tomatoes. On the stand there. And, oh dear, we’re out of fennel. Won’t have it until tomorrow.”
He looks at me, stricken.
“Don’t panic, James! We’re just going to have to bring in the heavy artillery.” I take him by the hand and walk him over to the flower section. “I’m thinking these yellow tulips’ll do the trick.”
James smiles and stands up straighter, ‘Ida, you’re a life saver.”
“Thanks, dear. Now, if you’re up for it, grab a bottle of her favorite wine and one of them big Lindt bars (I highly recommend the milk chocolate, crème brulee) and neither one of you will miss the fennel!”
That’s if for now. Catch you on the flip side!
(Listen to the podcast of Ida's column here. )