Grocery Shopping with Grandma

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

Showing off some of the items we bought on our last grocery shopping excursion -- a mop, rice cakes, the St. Pete Times, toilet paper ... Gramz recently "gave in," as she says, and started using those little motorized scooters to get around grocery stores. Now she can spend hours racing up and down the aisles!

Showing off some of the items we bought on our last grocery shopping excursion -- a mop, rice cakes, the St. Pete Times, toilet paper ... Gramz recently "gave in," as she says, and started using those little motorized scooters to get around grocery stores. Now she can spend hours racing up and down the aisles!

One of the first things my 86-year-old grandma did when she came to visit me last week was open my refrigerator. It was the first time that she, and my cousin who was on spring break, had been to my apartment, so my grandma was naturally curious to see what the place was like. She opened cabinets, hall closets, the freezer. Her eyes widened when all she saw in the freezer was a small stack of veggie burgers and a single purple Popsicle.

“Oh we need to go grocery shopping, Mallary,” she said.

“I knew you’d want to go the first day we were here!” I said, laughing.

Anyone who knows my grandma is well aware that she loves to grocery shop and does it several times a week. She scours the paper, looking for the best deals, then heads to the store, equipped with coupons, a long list and plenty of meals in mind. In the five days she was here, we went grocery shopping five times — four times at Publix and once at Sweetbay.

These trips were in part to shop for an Italian dinner that my grandma, cousin and I cooked for one of my colleagues. (My freezer is now filled with individually-wrapped veggie lasagna slices.) The other trips, though, were for foods that my grandma wanted to munch on or that she wanted me to have in the house — Italian salad dressing, Brach’s jelly beans, cheddar cheese rice cakes; a mop (“to wash that kitchen floor”), Clorox (“to scrub the black off of the shower tiles and the back of the sink”), etc. As soon as we would come home from the store, Gramz would start up a new list. Needless to say, my fridge is now fully stocked, as is my freezer.

The appeal in having a stocked freezer stems in part, I think, from living through World War II. The idea of running out of food scares seniors because, like my grandma, they know what it was like go to not have food in the pantry and to go to bed on an empty stomach. To this day, Gramz eats every bit on her plate. “I was taught,” she says, “to always clean my plate.”

People in my generation, she said, don’t always understand this, nor do they necessarily value the communal nature of food. Meals are meant to be eaten with families; they’re to be savored rather than gulped down in a few bites while standing over the kitchen sink, they’re to be made with love, care and the kind of creativity that doesn’t call for a microwave.

When preparing a big meal, it’s not unusual for my grandma to spend the entire day in the kitchen, making most things from scratch and usually making far too much of it! Cooking is a way for my grandma to feel closer to her family, and a way for her to get some “exercise” standing in the kitchen and mixing ingredients.

She used to get exercise walking through the aisles in the grocery store, but has since “given in,” as she says. She now uses those little motorized scooters to get around grocery stores. Instead of creeping down the aisles with her cane, she can race up and down them on the scooter and always get the right-away.

Going to the grocery store is also a way for Gramz to get out of the house, to meet people and feel as though she’s part of the outside world. “I could stay in bed and not do anything all day,” she says. “But I make a point to get out of the house every day and go somewhere.”

When she’s not going to the grocery store and making small talk with other shoppers, she’s cooking meals for, or watching “Jeopardy” with, her 87-year-old boyfriend, Gordon. Making meals for him has given her an excuse to start cooking again on a regular basis. Having grown accustomed to cooking daily meals for her two boys and husband, she had to learn to adjust when her children moved out and when her husband later died 10 years ago. It’s just not as fun cooking for yourself, she has said, and sometimes your appetite isn’t there, especially after a significant loss. Lucky for her, Gordon likes to eat, and he likes her meals.

And lucky for me, I don’t have to make any trips to the grocery store anytime soon. I can barely see what’s in the fridge it’s so full. Leave it to grandmas to fill your fridge, Clorox your bathroom tiles and sprinkle your apartment with love.

Do all seniors seem to like grocery shopping, or is it just my granmda?

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