A Grocery Store Story

This was first published in the Spring of 2005. It was my first published piece in a magazine and it really gave me the spirit to want to publish for the rest of my life. I often look back at this piece as the first time I became a writer and not for the fact that it was published in a magazine, but because I tapped into something that became important for me as a writer for the next decade, I found in myself the excavation tool to mine the deeper emotional coal, that if pressed, can be worn around your neck. 

A Grocery Store Story

There was a strange moment earlier today in the grocery store. I looked at a box of banana flavored cookies, a package obviously intended to entice kids, bright colored purple and yellow, the banana cookies themselves on the outside of the package, each with an individual smiling face, actually on the cookie itself, saying to the chilled that its okay, these are delicious. Just an inanimate strange smiling cookie face. Dizzy with sudden nostalgia, I remembered how when I was a kid my mother used to make ghost cookies around Halloween. White frosted cookies in the shape of ghosts, with little red round cinnamon candies as the face. My mother always made the little ghosts smiling at me and when I returned home from school, the cookies laid heaping on a large crystal plate at the little table in our old kitchen. I remember how the wooden chair felt strange as I pulled it back, bumping over the groutless black and white, diamond checkered tile floor. I would sit and tell my mother about school. Eating my smiling little ghosty cookies, drinking my two percent milk, looking into the bright eyes of my young Italian mother, her brown eyes glazed and tired, waiting for the point to my childish and immature story about what Pete Hatch did at the lunch table. She would open the old brown Frigidaire and pull out more milk, encouraging me to talk on and on, and I would, for there was no one else to listen, no brothers or sisters, dad away with work, late in the fall, no neighborhood friends on this cold and dreary afternoon.

I remember doing my homework covered underneath my fleece colorful blue dinosaur blanket, my mother starting dinner just before my father would return home from work. And when he did, I would sit with the family, just us three, at an aged wood table in front of our big bay window, examining the multicolored autumnal themed backyard, listening to classic rock (a la Steve Miller, John Cougar Mellencamp, Pink Floyd). My parents sipped red wine and talked about grown up stuff and I secretly fed the cat under the table.

(All this from a banana cookie package at a grocery store, damn near twenty years later! What it boils down to is that I lost the functionality of my spirit. I see now that I’ve grown stagnant and strange, delineating from the initial splurge I felt years ago. But I think its back, suddenly, outrageously!)

After I would help with dishes and then retire to my room to play endless hours of Nintendo and listen to my CD player. (Alice in Chains, The Dave Mathews Band, Aerosmith)  Just a kid.

And the nostalgia continued. All this in an eye blink, reeling in the cookie isle of a grocery store.

The next eye blink and I realized something else.  It was this:

Later on, much later, around eighteen years old, my sophomore year of college, I left New York City to go to Syracuse to meet my mother for lunch. She brought my grandmother, now deceased, the matriarch of this deep Italian family, to meet me. It was a surprise. We went to Sweet Baba’s, a wood fired pizza joint, in Armory Square. It was just before Halloween. The weather was cool and dry, the foliage at its peak that year, leaves gathering in gutters in this concrete city. But sitting there across from my mother, and my mother’s mother, for the first time in my life I realized they were the same. I realized that my grandmother was growing old. That someday she would die. And I saw my mother, aged, weathered, beautiful, and aging. I told her at that moment that I wanted a ghosty cookie for dessert. She laughed. My grandmother touched my hand and said, “These are the things I also remember”, but in Italian so much more beautiful.

A week later, a message was in my mail box in my dorm room. I had a package, first class. It was from my mother. A big box of ghosty cookies with the little red candies in a big smiley face with a note saying “Share them, but only if you want.” I did share them. And I cried a little later, about how my mother remembered that I was still a little kid at heart.

This is called A Grocery Store Story.

It’s always fall in my heart.

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