I came from that generation where grocery shopping was a once weekly, family activity. We lived a rather isolated existence on a farm; one that made Saturday trips to town an event--our only social outlet other than church.
Our farm was about ten miles from Letterkenny Army Depot, a storage area in southcentral Pennsylvania for army suplus items from WWII. (They also did daily underground explosions of bombs and large shells leftover from the war. Neighbors complained of cracked walls and rattling windows from these large, earth-shaking booms, but since when did a little complaining stop the government?) So it was no great stretch that some clever entrepreneur bought an army surplus bus and converted it into a grocery store on wheels. Once a week that army green bus, stocked with canned goods and coolers of dry ice to chill frozen foods like ice cream, would rumble up the hill, past the one-room school house that my older brother attended and travel our unpaved road, stopping at every farmhouse along the way.
There are also great memories of small country stores with barrels of pickles, flour and sugar. The gleaming glass counters that sported jars of penny candy and a roll of brown paper for wrapping fresh meats. A stove, or "heatrola", sat near the counters, keeping the store warm by burning either wood or coal. There were large tin canisters of hard pretzils, covered with enough salt to send one's sodium meter through the roof. Baskets, chicken cages and laundry scrub boards hung from the wooden rafters. These stores were gossip centers, a place to play checkers and a barter spot where farmers traded their fresh eggs and home-grown vegetables and fruits for things like toilet paper, Mason jars and cereal. Of course back then your choices of cereal were limited to Corn Flakes, Cheerios, Kix or Puffed Rice. These grocery stores were full of charm and personality. Our large supermarkets lack this colloquial atmosphere.
I miss that. Perhaps that's why I'm so enamored of neighborhood shops in Paris. Tiny room-sized general stores or dairies with dozens of varieties of cheeses or wine shops or butcher shops. I found the neighborhood grocery stores somewhat larger in Berlin, but great experiences just the same--especially their bakeries. In Europe, one brings his or her own shopping bag. The words "paper or plastic" are rarely uttered. Do you know I've gained five pounds just writing this blog?