This piece is part of the #52essays2017 challenge where I will share one essay a week in 2017. To learn more about this challenge or to participate, check out writer Vanessa Martir’s website and post about it.
Mom, in my memories, was always getting ready to go to the store or getting home from the store. Many times, my sister and I would come along.
My sister and I used to ride along in the car, excited to get the grocery store. We’d run to pick out a cart and then go immediately to what we all knew was Mom’s starting point in the store. It was usually the pharmacy. She was diabetic and always seemed to be putting in a prescription or picking something up. There was a little station where you could check your blood pressure. Or, you could try to put your sister’s whole head inside the armband and see what happened when it contracted. Or do experiments on a nice, soft loaf of bread. Poor, Mom. She had two terribly creative children.
We would usually, then, go through the aisles. I remember the cereal aisle was always a dramatic build-up as we got closer to it. My sister and I had to trade off who was picking the cereal each week and we played all sorts of strategic games with each other. She refused to pick Lucky Charms, even though we both liked them, just because they were my favorite. Instead, she always picked Sugar Smacks, which I didn’t like because they got too soggy in the milk. She also loved the cereal snuck handfuls of during the day when no one was looking until there were only a few wheat puffs left when I went to eat breakfast. I found out later in my life that this was the most sugary cereal of all the kids’ cereals in my childhood. They call it Honey Smacks now, but it still probably makes kids loony with a sugar high.
Back on the perimeter of the store, we would make our way to the deli section, one of the most potentially boring parts of the trip as there was usually a line. We would push our cart up to the tall glass counter where one of us would get to pull the ticket and get our number. And then we would wait. Sometimes we would beg Mom to be allowed to try a sample of something they put out. Usually it was cubes of orange cheese. I could eat at least five of them. But Mom only allowed one. I would take the tiniest of bites of my cube, trying to make mine last longer than my sister’s so she would finish first and be jealous that I was still eating mine. Occasionally we also got to try some of the meats or sliced cheeses my Mom would order. I remember my favorite was the roast beef slice. I always voted for it over the turkey or ham for lunches.
Sometimes if the line was really long at the deli, my sister and I would wander off into the produce area nearby. We’d look around at all the fruits and veggies and hope for the sound of the thunder. I don’t know why, but the store would play this thunder music right before the little sprayers went on to mist the vegetables. Hearing it start up would make us so excited and we would run over to the watch the spray hit the greens, beading off of it, sometimes dripping onto the floor, or sprinkling onto our upturned faces as we watched.
Other times we would push the limits of the store antics and be really bad. We had a game we would play where we one of us would get the idea and then whisper to the other, “it’s Give Mom a Hard Time Day”. I think this name came out of a store visit or car trip when we were pushing all my Mom’s buttons and she warned us in that special Mom voice, “girls, this is NOT day to give your Mom a hard time!” We laughed and said, “of course not, Mom”. We aren’t giving you a hard time. But then we usually proceeded to see just what we could do to make her laugh, but not push her into extreme exasperation to the point of getting in trouble. It was the most fun game of all at the store. We would do things like ask if we could buy something and then if she said no, we’d try to sneak it into the cart when she wasn’t looking. Other times, we would use the cart as a jungle gym, ask to have a cookie, tell her we changed our minds and needed chunky instead of creamy peanut butter after taking ten minutes to decide on creamy peanut butter, write her songs about the grocery store, trilling along that “this is the greatest store on earth!” as she tried to finish a row.
Of course, we would end up competing with each other for her attention with ever-increasing pranks. One time in the deli line, my sister dared me to go get bananas even though I Mom didn’t say we could get any. We just wanted to see if she would notice. I snuck off and got a bunch and made it back, quietly putting them underneath a bag of chips while Mom was ordering. We were so proud of ourselves and laughing as she came back. She suspected something, I am sure.
When she went to check out, she was talking with the cashier and we snuck covert looks at each other as the bananas slowly starting making their way down the conveyor belt. I was excited and practicing my dance routine, telling Mom to look at me and not the bananas. My sister was tickling me every time I spun around and we both twirled and tickled and watched out of the corners of our eyes as the bananas got picked up and rung in. When they were bagged, I did a double spin of triumph and my sister gave me a double tickle attack and we both ended up on the floor of the grocery store in hysterics laughing as my Mom headed to the door with the cart. We ran past the gumball machines and toys. This was even better than a gumball. Would she notice at the car and make us take it back?
We continued our antics, with Mom getting ever slightly more frustrated. She packed the groceries in and didn’t notice the bananas. My sister starting acting like monkey, which made me start laughing. We rollicked our way into our seats and fastened our belts as she demanded that we both be quiet. I was singing a song about bananas. She started the engine, but we didn’t move. My sister yelled…” this car isn’t moving!”
My Mom responded, “I want a quiet ride home. No yelling. Do you hear me?”
At this point, I had a great idea and said, “But, it’s Give Mom a Hard Time Day!”
My sister and I both looked at each other and cracked up.
“Cory, that is not funny! Do you hear me?”
In a stroke of childhood brilliance, I pulled out one of the secret bananas and with all the acting chops I could summon said, “Excuse me m’am, but I cannot hear you. As you can see, I have a a banana in my ear.” My sister howled with shrieks.
What went through Mom’s head at that moment? Did she want to smack me? Did she want to scream herself and immediately call a babysitter for the next ten years? Or did she swear to never, ever, bring us to the store again? I don’t know.
But rather than getting madder and more upset. She looked at me in the rear view mirror, paused for a long minute, and burst into laughter with us. We were all in stitches as I continued hamming it up with the banana and my sister confessed what we had done. “Give Mom a Hard Time Day” became legendary in our sisterly stories.
Nowadays, despite iPhones and technology and reminders and online recipes, I still rarely make it to the store with a well-prepared list and get out without forgetting something.
But, I have no excuse for my forgetfulness. I think back to all the hassle I put my Mom through and I laugh it off. I see it as a little poke from beyond – from Mom. I am just getting what is owed to me in karma.