Family Matters: Sightings in Grocery Stores

This posting is mostly about a childhood memory, one that is very clear after almost sixty years. My grandparents shopped on the same night every week after the work day was done for my grandfather. Before I was born I know the shopping was done differently because my grandmother told me how she would take the childrens’ wagon and one or more of the children and walk downtown. It was actually a long walk and went down a major hill and then up a major hill. It was definitely a mile and probably closer to a mile and a half. The groceries were brought home in the wagon, of course, and the children probably had to walk beside and prevent things from falling out. In the late forties and early fifties, however, the shopping was done by automobile on Thursday after work (5 p.m.) and I often went along. My aunt worked as a cashier at the A & P store so it was almost a family event. My grandfather carried all the money and always paid the cashier. I don’t recall any disagreements about what was purchased so that is a positive thing. I do remember the rolling hardwood floors in the store and the meat department men with blood stains on their white aprons.

The memory I have concerns my paternal grandmother. My parents had separated/divorced two or three years after the war and my brother, mother and I lived with my maternal grandparents. One day we had done all the shopping and brought our cart to the cash register to be checked out. And suddenly, my grandmother grabbed my sleeve and said in a rather loud whisper “Don’t look now but that is your other grandmother over there.” Of course, I looked.

I can still see her standing there in the grocery aisle. She was wearing a full length cloth coat with a partial fur collar and a hat of felt, perhaps with a veil attached over the front of it. I do not recall a colour although the coat and hat seem to be black in my mind. She was not smiling. She did not wear glasses. She was looking right at me. She had on black heels appropriate to a grandmother in those times. My maternal grandmother was heavier and wore black shoes with heels and laces. I am guessing this “other”  grandmother might have been about 60. If I could draw, I could reproduce the face because it is like a photograph in my memory.

The memory is like the picture of my father that I saw only once: it was like a passport photo and it fell out of a little green strongbox in which my mother kept papers of importance. One night she had it on the bed and was looking for something when I caught sight of the photo. It is engraved on my memory like the sighting of my “other” grandmother in the grocery store. My father had reddish hair, distinctly parted on the left side, a matching moustache well groomed, a medium high forehead and what seemed like blue or green eyes. He was young in the picture and his face was narrow but not too narrow. I think he was wearing a white shirt. I never saw the photo again and I never saw him either. With hindsight, there is a possibility that my mother was searching through her papers for something she needed to get remarried but I, of course,  was blissfully unaware of this at the time.

My father  had a sister and I recall her being outside my grandparent’s house one day; she wanted to see me I believe. Before my parents divorced I imagine she used to play with me and no doubt an attachment had developed. My cousin who was staying with us told me to get under the kitchen table and hide. The atmosphere was one of fear with a dash of excitement but my father’s sister never stepped off the front sidewalk towards the house.

What remains in our memory from our childhood years fascinates me. I can go through old photograph albums and, of course, the photos trigger memories of people and places. But these sightings like the one in the grocery store and that of the small photo lying on a bed amidst other papers or the one of myself hiding under the kitchen table are quite different: they are not concrete items in an album that I can go back to time and time again for verification. They are, however, more vivid than the photos, in fact, they are almost video clips. I have no actual photographs of my father or any members of his family.

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