Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Grocery Store Ponderings

When we moved to Memphis, several grocery stores in town were called Seesel's. I never thought much about where they got their name until one day I was walking from the park back to our campus apartment. This involved walking along a strip of land that ran between two private home properties. I had taken the short cut many times and loved it because of the trees and large patches of moss. But on this day, a man was out working, maybe trimming the hedgerow. I don't remember for sure.

But I felt I should ask permission for walking on the land, and when I did, he said, "Oh, sure that's all right for you to walk through here! That's exactly what Mr. Seesel had in mind! He insisted on leaving this part of the property open so people could walk through to the park. You just come right on ahead."

And I asked and learned that the house to my right was indeed the home the Mr. Seesel of the grocery stores. So that was pretty neat and gave me a reason to like Seesel's (the store) even more than I did. I learned later that the Seesel family started selling food in Memphis in 1858.

I liked the Seesel's near us also because it was the smallest grocery store around. Superlo, the store I most often went to (we were penny-pinching grad school students back then) was pretty small, too. But then they enlarged, and I've never enjoyed them as much since they got so big.

In fact, shortly after Superlo expanded and rearranged things, I happened upon Dr. Lewis, professor emeritus of our graduate school, doing his grocery shopping. This was either after his beloved wife had become very ill or shortly after her death. At any rate, he was there. Even legends with two PhDs (from Harvard and Hebrew Union, nonetheless) have to get food somehow.

I asked him if he was finding everything okay, because I sure wasn't, and he admitted it was rather a challenge. A few minutes later I came across him again. He motioned toward the new murals on the walls, which had been added with the expansion, and said with a wry smile, "They should have written somewhere up there, 'Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.' "

Well, back to Seesel's. A few years back they got "bought out" by a chain called Albertson's, who had the decency to keep the name Seesel's, since the stores had been a foundational part of the local culture. I thought that was classy.

But a few years later, they were bought by Schnuck's, who apparently didn't realize or care how insulting it was to replace the locally appreciated name Seesel's, which just rolls off the tongue (of slow-speaking Southerners especially), to Schnuck's, which no one I talked with liked and some could not even pronounce. But Schnuck's it was, and I started making peace with the name sometime in the past year.

And then, lo and behold, Kroger bought out Schnuck's. Now we have a bajillion Kroger stores in this city, adding to the chain-store culture monotony. At least Schnuck's was a little distinctive--even if, for all I know, they made be rampant in other parts of the country.

Well, tonight I went to Kroger. Not because I'm a fan of Kroger, but because it is still the small store it was before all this transpired, and I was tired and didn't want to walk any more than I had to.

Now, here's the thing that prompted the post.

I was looking for corn meal and baking chocolate and nuts, among other things. So, in most stores, you think "baking goods" or something to that effect, right? The aisle where flour, sugar, salt, oil, corn meal, spices, and all those raw ingredients will be. I couldn't find it anywhere.

I finally asked someone for help, and she pointed me to a certain aisle. How could I have missed it, I wondered? I looked at the sign identifying what the aisle contained, and what did it say?


Yes, it said Cake Mixes. Nothing about baking, nothing about the general nature of the many items that make up the baking section. Just Cake Mixes.

I didn't even know cake mixes existed until I was in junior high or high school. My mother didn't use them. I don't use them. I don't consider them an ingredient, but just something you use when you don't have time to do the real thing. I'm not anti-cake mix, but I don't consider them the main thing on that grocery aisle, for sure.

So, I wonder, what does this mean? What does it say about me? What does it say about our culture? What does it say about the difference between Kroger and other grocery stores?

Does anyone else shop in a grocery store that says Cake Mixes instead of Baking Goods or words to that effect?

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, and I hope to write something quite different for that, but this, as you can see, is really on my mind.

Plus, I thought you'd enjoy the Dr. Lewis story.

Happy Thanksgiving cooking to you!

(And please note that Dante's name does not have two l's in it. But I liked this photo more than any others I could find.)

Monday, November 07, 2011

Christmas Memories, a Litte Early

Yesterday was the day my granddaddy died, in 1989. I was in Italy and, knowing that he was sick, had to choose between going home to see him then, or waiting to go home at Christmas as planned, trusting that he would still be there. Making two trips was not an option. I chose to wait and trust, so I was with the family for Christmas.

He wasn't there.

Today was my grandmother's birthday. She was born in 1915 or 1916. The court records said one thing, but years later she found that the family Bible said another. It's hard to imagine the family Bible having the wrong date for a birth, so she accepted that she was probably a year older than she had always thought she was. Not an issue many of us deal with!

I never thought till just now about how both of their deaths connect in my mind with Christmas, which was their last name. With Granddaddy, it was the choice mentioned above. With Grandmother, the last time I saw her was when she came down for a Christmas concert that I sang in. I'll never forget how beautiful, if tired, she looked that day in her lavender mohair coat. She was beautiful, she always was, inside and out. And she was tired. So tired she had not gone to church that morning, very unusual for her. She had been sick. She died about a month later. But she came for that concert, and I wish so much we had sung something more listenable than what we did! We sang something impressive, but I wish it had been beautiful, like her.

When I was young, my classmates sometimes didn't believe me when I said I had "gone to the Christmases' " for Christmas. In our small town, no one had that as a last name.

But it was a good name for two generous people who gave more than either of them probably realized to the people whose lives they touched. Yes, they gave us shoes and clothes and books and piano lessons and cash sometimes, and many other tangible things.

But more than that they gave us a home to visit, a place to feel welcome, always a hug, and an example of perseverance, hope, faith, forgiveness, patience, strength....Not because their life was ideal. On the contrary, it was not, it very much was not, though I didn't learn that until I was a good deal older. But that is why the intangibles mean so much. What is strength or perseverance when everything is easy?

But when everything is not, when life is hard, and you still come out loving and beautiful and a blessing to all who know you, that is a real gift. In this case, a very real Christmas gift.

Grandmother and Granddaddy, with my mom.

Grandmother and I'm not sure which child....

Friday, November 04, 2011


It captured my heart immediately.

When I was little, one of my piano pieces had the words,

I'm an acorn, small and round,
Lying on the cold, cold ground.
No one wants to pick me up
'Cause I'm such a little nut.

A drawing of a little acorn with a sad face accompanied the music. I think perhaps the acorn even had tears, though I may be wrong. At any rate, it made me sad, and I felt sorry for that little acorn in the two-dimensional world of my piano book!

I hadn't thought of that in years, but when I posted these photos, it came to mind. (And of course now I can't get the tune out of my mind!)

Well, maybe I made this acorn happy by bringing it into the cabin and keeping it with me and admiring its beautiful turning colors. It's home with me now, sitting by my computer monitor, completely brown by now.

Boy, after remembering that song, I don't know if I'll be able to get rid of it! The acorn, I mean.