Groceries

Sliding doors glide open. Coolers hum. Glass chimes in sweet melodies. My fingers tug at a blue plastic ring to pull a half-gallon jar toward me. In one swift motion, I take it out, swing it by my side, slide the door shut and turn toward the cashier. As I walk toward the register, I let my eyes wander toward the display of cheeses, eggs and whoopie pies and the shelves of grilled stickies in boxes declaring, “World famous!”

I linger at the grilled stickies, picking up a blue box, thinking of the first time I ate grilled stickies, having never heard of them before, bought after a football game from the campus creamery. The taste of the cinnamon roll lingers and I fumble off my gloves to reach into my pocket for the cash. Count the change. Decide I have enough to add a box to warm up the night. Check out. Pay. Crunch through the snow to my car, laying the milk jar gently on the floor and placing the stickies on the passenger seat beside me.

The first pour produces the sweetest sound ever heard…a “glub glub” not poetic in writing, but symphonic on its way into a Mason jar. And drinking that milk from a glass is sweet happiness on a cold, dark, deep winter’s night.

On cold nights like this one, I think back on my trips to the Meyer Dairy. A local place on the south edge of my Pennsylvania town, the cows in the back 40 were milked in the morning and the product bottled in the afternoon. After class, I would stop by there on my way home, exchanging empty glass bottles for new. Even if I needed to stop by Giant, where I could easily pick up milk in a one-stop shopping trip, I still planned a trip to Meyer for my milk and grilled stickies.

I miss those trips, the warmth of the dairy coolers. Walking in from the chill night air was finding shelter from the evening’s chores. The darkness that enveloped me when I first stepped out of my car disappeared under the gentle glow of the dairy coolers, the ice cream counter and the dining are. There, I always felt at home, always refreshed. Once, I stopped by after working on the university farm, still wearing my Carhartt coveralls. I picked up my half-gallon jar, feeling even more connected to the process that had brought the milk to that cooler for me, a farm girl, to pick up and enjoy after a good day’s work.

When I moved back home, it took me a while to adjust to drinking milk out of plastic jars again. The taste is different. After trying four or five different brands and percentages, I found one I like. I’ll stick with it for a while. I still have three milk jars from the Meyer Dairy, and every so often I’ll look at them and think, Oh, to go back there…

Going back to the grocery stores here at home is a different experience, too. Besides the milk, Giant truly was a one-stop shop with good food at good prices (the fruit snacks were exceptional). As a graduate student, I needed that. My tastes were changing, and so were my cooking habits. Instead of always buying cheese wrapped individually in plastic, I started to buy versatile blocks of cheese for several different uses. I learned which cheeses shred and tasted the best.

But when I first moved back, I suffered from sticker shock. Because I am not an ag economist, I don’t understand all of the specifics for how food is priced, but somehow, it seemed different…higher…here. I became a restless wanderer among the stores, trying to keep my grocery bill around the same amount as it was back in Pennsylvania.

More importantly, I looked for the brands and kinds of food I had grown used to. My wanderings resulted in part because of the change in food types: one store didn’t have good lunch meat, another had strange bread, a third’s fruit snacks tasted strange. Cheddar crumbles more easily here, making it hard to slice or shred (it’s the little things). On top of that, the phrase I thought most in those beginning days of moving back home was, “I don’t know where anything is.” It was a rather sobering thought, and it made me sad to voice it, as it applied to more than just the grocery store….

And it wasn’t that I was unwilling to eat anything other than what I was accustomed to. It was a transition. Just another transition in my long, difficult list of required adjustments, of which there were more now than there were in moving to another state two years ago. Strange that it would be that way. But there it was.

Every so often, I’ll miss a certain food unique to the area (especially ice cream and pretzels) and think, If only I could get some of that sent out to me. But that only lasts for two minutes, so I stock my freezer with ice cream half gallons and visit the Auntie Anne’s across the way from my office.

Yet, I know, no matter how hard I try, there is just no replacing those glass jars pulled from a warm glow on a cold, dark, deep winter’s night.

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