Friday, April 14, 2023

The last shopping list

When the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020 - when people who were paying attention knew what was happening, a few weeks before the official announcement of a pandemic - I went grocery shopping. Already we were seeing shocking footage from Australia and the UK of empty shelves that should have held toilet paper and paper towels, of people fighting over the last available packages. I tried to protect myself with a scarf wrapped around my mouth and nose and plastic gloves on my hands. Somehow I managed to sweat right through my gloves and saturate and destroy the paper shopping list I had thrown together. I knew something sturdier would be needed. I took the cardboard liners from cases of cat food, cut them into strips about 2.5" by 6", and used them to write my shopping lists. I found they were sturdier and harder to lose than scraps of paper, and realized that this little innovation was something that might outlive the pandemic.

Shopping lists are the very definition of ephemera, artifacts never intended to outlive their use. But here and there I have shopping lists written long ago, by my grandmother (who listed I Can't Believe It's Not Butter as an item, meticulously written out without any attempt at abbreviation) and my mother (her handwriting crabbed and difficult to read even years ago.) I even come across the occasional shopping list written by me that has escaped the garbage can or recycling bin. Some are meaningless and generic, but others evoke memories of specific purpose-driven shopping trips.

My mom came home from the rehab center, briefly, on February 3rd. I had spent over a month living alone with the cats since her leg broke on December 27th, and knew I needed to restock supplies for her. She had developed a taste for the salads and jello being provided by the rehab center, and I knew I had to get the ingredients to recreate them. This is my shopping list from February 2nd, a shopping trip I went on immediately after leaving the rehab center.

The Jergens (small) was a gift for one of the nurses who cared for her. My mom (like me) had Winter-dried skin that needed a generous application of moisturizer. When she was at home I was the one who applied her cherry-almond scented Jergens moisturizer to the dry spots on her back. While she was at the rehab center that task fell to her nurses. One of the nurses fell in love with the Jergens, and asked if she could stop by to put it on her chapped hands throughout the day. My mom asked me to get the nurse a small bottle of Jergens she could keep as a parting gift.

The CAKE listed at the bottom, separated from the rest of the list by a line, was the "Welcome Home" cake I had ordered from Sanitary Bakery, a cake that served the dual purpose of celebrating her return home and to substitute for my missed birthday cake from a week before.

She would be whisked out of the house the following Wednesday by an unmasked ambulance crew after she fell and lightly struck her head. On that ambulance ride she almost certainly contracted the COVID that would incubate over the next few days, bring about a positive test the following Monday, and give her a stroke on Valentine's Day morning. She never recovered from the stroke and died on the 24th.

But I still have that shopping list, with the last groceries I would ever buy for her.

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