ALONG THE AISLE
The bright color lured her closer to the shelf. She thought the box was red, but as her eyes traveled up and down, the color morphed from red to mauve to pink. As usual, the words on the box only served as an annoyance. Reading had become a last resort because her eyes were just so exhausted, but something about the small, rectangular box made her think twice before she moved on.
Greta reached her left hand across her body to the purse draped over her right wrist. Just a small twist of the fastener, and the purse popped open. She reached inside, still mesmerized by the color, and her hand sifted through its contents until it found the familiar feel and shape of her
reading glasses. Grappling with them for a moment, she finally got the glasses settled on her nose and resting behind her ears.
Greta looked up as she re-fastened her purse, and suddenly the white letters snapped to attention: INFANT TYLENOL. In a flash, she felt her baby in her arms. Callie was two months old and had her first fever and Greta had gone racing to the aisle in the middle of the night to figure out which fever reducer to buy.
“Why are there so many? For goodness sake, I just need a fever reducer. I don’t need a hundred choices!” She was muttering out loud, hoping someone might hear her and offer a suggestion, but realizing she was alone in the aisle. After all, it was 11:30 at night.
She had left Callie home with Frank, his first time alone with the baby. He’s clueless. Hurry, just pick one! Greta felt a rant coming on as she wrung her hands in frustration. Finally, she grabbed the INFANT TYLENOL. Tylenol always worked for her headaches. Her gut told her it would work on Callie’s fever. A sudden wave of relief washed over her because she had made a decision. In that moment, she knew what it meant to be totally responsible for another human being.
After thirty years, the box still looked the same. Greta shook her head in amazement at how quickly the years had passed. A few slow shuffle steps further down the aisle and Greta stopped as she recognized the diaper section.
How she had struggled over which brand of diapers to buy! She took her glasses off her nose and closed her eyes, remembering when she and Callie had come to the aisle to pick out potty training pants. Callie was almost three and more than ready to graduate from diapers.
“But I love my Winnie-the-Pooh panties!” Callie had screamed.
“They’re not panties. They’re diapers, and you’re too old for them.” Greta had regretted her tone, but she was absolutely done with diapers. Her friends’ kids were already in regular underpants, and she and Callie were still talking about Winnie-the-Pooh diapers. It was embarrassing!
“I want my Winnie-the-Pooh’s!”
Other market patrons shopping in the aisle shot Greta sympathetic looks. With seconds to spare before the full tantrum hit, Greta spotted them. Tigger trainers! She was stunned by her good fortune. Tigger trainers were the answer to all her prayers.
“Look, honey! Tigger trainers!” She steered Callie past the Winnie-the-Pooh’s and stood her directly in front of the Tigger trainers.
“My big girl diapers! Yeah, Mommy! My big girl diapers!” Greta could feel the pride radiating from her daughter. In that instant, Callie had become a big girl.
Still smiling over the Tigger trainers, Greta made her way slowly down the pharmacy aisle and came to the acne medication section. She paused to adjust her glasses. It seemed like only yesterday that she was in sixth grade and had a huge blemish on the side of her nose which her parents told her not to touch. Greta reached in her pocket, searching for her ever-trustworthy tissue to dab her eyes.
“You expect me to go to school with this huge thing on the side of my face? Forget it!” Greta was furious.
“If you mess with it, it will only get worse.” Her mother had insisted that she knew it all about acne. Greta knew that nothing her mother said could destroy what rested on the side of her nose.
“Fine, let’s go to the market on our way to school and look for some blemish medication.” Greta recognized that tone, but she truly didn’t care. Her friends had given her a hard time the day before about the zit, and it had doubled in size since then. She and her mother rode to the market in silence.
Greta felt her body tense as she remembered how frustrated she felt that day. She and her mother had found the acne section and stood there in silence, for what seemed like an eternity. No miracle cure existed. And yet, slowly the tension between Greta and her mother had disappeared. Standing there incredulous at the number of choices which would do absolutely nothing, Greta suddenly felt her mother’s love more. Her mom would always be there for her, she understood, whether she could fix the problem or not.
Her mother had been gone for nearly twenty years, but that memory still tugged at Greta’s heart, making her eyes well up with tears. She used the tissue as she inched further down the aisle, where she noticed the feminine products section. In a flash, she was standing there with Callie, her pre-teen daughter.
“I’m getting tampons. That’s what all my friends use and that’s what I’m using.” Callie was in tears, stomping her feet as if she was two years old again in the midst of a temper tantrum. “You know Dr. Kenny said you can’t use tampons right away. I’m getting you the pads.” “I don’t care what Dr. Kenny said. I’ll be the only girl in seventh grade not using tampons!”
Greta didn’t remember reading about the risks of feminine hygiene product selection in the adolescent parenting book. Her own mother had presented Greta with a bag of supplies, which Greta accepted, and that was that. There was no trip to the store, no discussion.
Greta remembered that line drawn in the sand. She had no choice but to buy both the pads and the tampons and get out of the store. Callie gave her a hug that Greta would never forget before heading to the checkout station hand-in-hand, as if Greta had just bought Callie her first coloring book. Looking back on it, Greta knew then how her own mother had felt when they had made the zit trip.
Greta smiled as she realized that in less than a decade, Callie would be having the same conversation with her own daughter.
Still reminiscing about that day with Callie, Greta made her way to the hair care products section. Her eyes tried to focus on the hair color boxes. Greta had started going gray in her twenties and had colored her hair for over twenty years. Every month, Greta made her trip to the aisle to pick up the box of “permanent nutmeg brown” hair color. Her hair color never looked the same as the hair on the box, but at least it covered her gray.
One day, she decided enough was enough. She was fed up with the process. By then, Greta was so gray that the color only lasted for two weeks at the most. She talked it over with her family. Callie was her strongest supporter.
“Go for it, Mom. You don’t need to color your hair.”
Her friends were a different story. Every single one of them colored their hair and she knew they felt betrayed by her discontinuing the use of artificial hair color. None of that mattered anymore. She did not want to be held hostage by her hair color any longer. It was so liberating! Her friends would have to deal with their own insecurities. She was done! Greta remembered feeling more confidence than she had felt in a long time. She was free!
Touching the top of her head with her left hand, Greta actually felt invigorated by her trip down the aisle — until she remembered why she had come to the supermarket pharmacy aisle in the first place.
“Why do they put them on the top shelf?” Greta could not believe that not only did she need a package of incontinence pads, but she also had to ask someone to get them off the shelf.
“Young man, can you help me, please?” Her voice was quivering, not from weakness, but from embarrassment. A boy in a blue vest approached and, without asking what she needed, got the package from the shelf. She felt her cheeks blush as she realized that the young man needed no further explanation.
“Here you go, ma’am.” She had made the trip from Tigger trainers to DEPENDS.
”Thank you, sir.” Greta took the package from the boy and with her held head high, turned the corner and headed for the checkout station.
She knew that in the blink of an eye, that young man would be carrying the same package, if he was as lucky as she, to live long enough to need them, after a full life.
What had started as a bleak trip to the pharmacy aisle at the local supermarket turned into an uplifting trip back in time. Greta felt so grateful, realizing that her life thus far had been everything she could have dreamed it would be, and realizing that she still had many more trips down the aisle ahead of her.