Shopping List

Skyline View from my Studio
Seattle, USA
November 6, 2009

I've been doing the parents' grocery shopping since returning to Seattle.

The shopping list Mom gives me is always written out by hand on a scrap of paper. What she lists out is in part based on the weekly circular of items on sale at the neighborhood Safeway supermaket. Sale items top the list. Remaining necessities round out the bottom. Specific items, sizes, and quantities are indicated mostly through abbreviations:

While I shop, I don't assume that others inspect or judge what's in my shopping cart. But, for some reason I feel better when wheeling around a cart full of what's on Mom's list than times I'm picking food up for myself. In my own shopping I tend not to buy so many of the staples Mom always has listed: spinach, eggs, butter... clearly, she still cooks and prepares meals from scratch far more often than I do.

Her list doesn't seem long, but it takes me at least an hour of going up and down aisles to track everything down. After check-out I haul at least a dozen sacks--some plastic, some--canvas to the car. I enjoy the routine.

It was somewhere walking up Aisle 1 this afternoon, dairy products to my left and ice cream to my right, that I began regarding the list with new eyes. The content was mundane. But was this a piece of paper I should just discard after finishing shopping? How many more opportunities would I have to see something handwritten by my mother?

While waiting in the checkout line I was still contemplating whether the list was worth holding onto. It wouldn't make much of a keepsake, but I felt suddenly sentimental. I was leaning toward saving it. How many people write out shopping lists by hand today?

My train of thought was distracted by the woman in line in front of me. She started scolding a nearby boy of about seven, "Nathan! Come here. Will you stand still!"

Her groceries were in front of mine on the conveyor belt leading to the cashier. Lying atop her items was a scrap of ruled paper torn from a spiral notebook. Words corresponding with the items it lay atop of were written out in a round hand I associate with elementary schools:

Seeing this other list provided all the perspective I needed. I decided not to keep my mother's handwritten shopping list.