Yesterday I did one of those strategic early morning Walmart runs. You know: the aisle-organized list, the double mask, the full body sweatsuit: prepare to raid at dawn.
As is usual when making this foray, I went to the canning aisle first. (It used to be cleaning supplies to look for bleach wipes. Things are improving.) If you’re a canner, you know why I go there first. If you aren’t, don’t worry about it. The point is, when I arrived another woman with a gater mask stood in front of the empty section.
She eyed me sideways and I did the same to her. Were we after the same scarce resources?
Half-pint jars were my quarry. Which they had. As I put a couple of cases in my cart, she said, “My mom died.”
I said, “I am so sorry to hear that. How are you doing?”
She said, “It was March 20, 2019. She canned a lot.”
“Does it comfort you to use her stuff?”
She cocked her head, considering. Above the mask her eyes concentrated on the shelf, but she was seeing something else.
“Yeah, it does.” Her hand moved to a thing that claimed it was a “grease catcher,” a kind of modified coffee pot doohickey. A lot of doohickeys have come out since the pandemic started and newbies began entering traditional preservation methods with money to spend.
“My mom kept all the grease from when she cooked, but she kept it in a kind of an old skillet with a screen over it. It didn’t look like this.” Her hand rocked the coffeepot-esque thing back and forth in its box with a faint rattle.
“Lotsa weird devices coming out. You still have hers?”
“You know, I don’t know. I haven’t seen it in years, but there’s still some boxes to go through. Some days it feels like yesterday, but it was two years ago. She missed all this craziness.” Although her hand gestured to the empty shelf we both knew what she meant.
I didn’t say the other words we were thinking: two years ago today.
Aloud I asked, “Are you looking for lids?”
She nodded. Hence the side-eye when we met. We might have had to arm wrestle.
I grinned, then realized she couldn’t see it. “Aren’t we all? Last I bought some without price gouging was at Target. I don’t know if you live near one?”
Rural people will understand, but for those who wonder why I said that to someone in the local Walmart, these places are beacons for 40 miles around. Sure enough, she lived in a small town about 30 miles away. This was her nearest box store.
We exchanged Intel on where we’d last seen rings and flats, who was upping the prices, places to check on retail and the online markets. She told me about her mom’s biscuit recipe and her love for fresh tomatoes. She still uses her mom’s clothes peg bag and some very old pins that her mom had from her mother. “The smell of fresh laundry, or fresh cut tomatoes, bring her right back like she’s standing there.”
I nodded. “The smells get us every time, don’t they.”
We wished each other luck on the lid hunt, and started to move away.
She paused. “It was nice, talking about my mom. It’s been awhile since I just talked to somebody I don’t live with.”
“I liked hearing about her,” I said.
And we parted.