As I walked through the automatic doors, Piggly Wiggly looked like any other grocery store--a manager milling around trying to look important, several cashiers at the checkout counters, somebody putting up stock, and a banner announcing double coupon week. I went to pull a shopping cart free from the cart area when I heard a friendly voice call out, "That buggy has wobbly wheels." I knew what he meant by wobbly wheels; they're attached to every shopping cart in America. It was the term "buggy" that had me perplexed. The only buggy I had ever heard of was a baby buggy and even that was really called a "baby carriage." I chose a different buggy and quickly glanced over my shopping list.
First, I made my way down the produce aisle and looked for eggplant, zucchini, brussels sprouts, and asparagus. Instead, I found vegetables like okra, collards, yellow squash, black-eyed peas, and turnip greens. I decided that we could live off the vitamins and nutrients still in our bodies from the northeast. I did stop long enough to get some genuine Georgia peanuts to take home and roast, but that's another story.
I continued through the store and looked for our usual staples of Skippy peanut butter, Thomas' English muffins, fresh pumpernickel bagels, strawberry cream cheese, and Quaker DateNut Granola cereal (with wheatgerm added). To my surprise, I found none of these items. Now, it's not that there wasn't any peanut butter or English muffins, but when your children will only eat particular brands and you've just moved them thirteen hundred miles from the only home they've ever known, you'd at least like to show them that they are not going to starve. (Fortunately, when news of our plight reached our old neighborhood, friends rallied to ship us the beloved peanut butter and English muffins by overnight mail.) Concerning the other items, I settled for frozen egg bagels, plain cream cheese, and Cheerios.
A few other things were also noticeably different as I journeyed through the store. Coming from an area of the country which is predominantly Italian and Jewish, I was used to a wide selection of pastas, Matzo bread, and lox and bagels. In their places I found an amazing assortment of something called "grits." One bag had broken open and little grains of what looked like Tide detergent had spilled on the shelf. My washing machine wasn't hooked up yet, so I didn't need any "grits." Moving on to the meat department, I felt like I had struck it rich when I found some boneless chicken breasts after looking at a mysterious white slab called "fatback."
Finally, I pushed the buggy to the checkout line and was absolutely thrilled to find that there were not eight people with overfilled buggies at every register. In fact, I walked right up to the cashier. My children did not have the usual amount of time to go through their ritual of whining, begging, crying, and screaming as they waited beside ten thousand packs of forbidden gum and candy.
I had enough cash to pay for the groceries, but I wanted to establish myself as a regular customer as soon as possible.
"Could I please have an application for a check cashing card?" I asked the cashier. The cashier gave me a puzzled look. I thought it was because she couldn't understand my northern accent, so I slowly repeated, "Could I please have an application for a check cashing card?"
Still looking confused, she responded, "You can write a check for the correct amount."
No driver's license, no credit cards for identification? She didn't even want my children as collateral? "Do they just trust people here?" I wondered.
While all of this was taking place, a nice-looking young man had been putting my groceries into bags. I later learned that they are called "sacks." I watched him carefully. I was used to bagging my own groceries and I had a system of putting items which belong in the same kitchen cabinet into the same bag; then it is easier to unpack them. But if this nice young man had nothing else to do but put my groceries into bags, I wasn't going to complain. Unfortunately, it was when he started to push the buggy toward the door that I had to get nasty. I had a cart of groceries stolen from me once before and I was not going to let that happen again.
"Those are my groceries," I exclaimed and grabbed the cart--buggy--whatever. "B-b-but ma''am, I-I was fixin' to take 'em to your car," he stammered as he turned to me with a startled look.
"That won't be necessary," I replied haughtily.
"I-I'll lose my job if customers don't let me put the sacks in their cars," he explained to me.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered hearing about a time when grocery stores had bag boys. I thought they had gone the way of the dinosaurs. Very embarrassed, I allowed him to put the groceries in my car while I buckled the kids into their car seats. I thanked the young man several times, but I didn't know if I was supposed to give him a tip. Afterward, I discovered that tipping a bag boy is like feeding a dog at the dinner table. They always want more.
As I drove home I saw the two Golden Arches. I felt relieved. The kids played on the playground while I stood in line and waited to order two Happy Meals. At least some things are the same, no matter where you live.