Grocery Store Social Hour

Growing up, we had enough to get by, but like most families that lived outside of the subdivisions of South Knoxville, we didn’t have a whole lot more than that. It never bothered me growing up because I didn’t know any better. We’d make the occasional trip to the movies if we had it extra or maybe a trip to the mall, but I didn’t know those things as a regular occurrence until I was older, once Dad stopped working construction and started his own business. In the meantime, our family would fill our Friday nights going to the grocery store or Walmart and mingling with the other families that would frequent the Chapman Highway superstores.
Most nights were pretty basic; Dad would get lost in sporting goods and find some hunting buddy from way back when or just some random guy who seemed to be buying the same box of shotgun shells as he was. Somehow, a conversation about a Remington 12 gauge turned into a two hour conversation, and we weren’t sure what time we would get out of Walmart. Momma would get lost in the grocery aisles, and Casey and I would wonder aimlessly around the CDs looking at all the pop artists even though we were only allowed to listen to country for the longest time. The visits were pretty methodic; well, most of them.
I was about fifteen when we walked into the Walmart superstore; I was desperately seeking my way into the popular crowd and was making headway as a freshman, which was quite an accomplishment considering my wardrobe and the thickness of my wire-rimmed glasses. I was riding on a self-deprecating sense of humor and a dashing personality, and all of that had me barely holding on by a thread. Regardless, I was on my way to hanging out with the superior Christians of the high school crowd, and there was nothing that screamed success like hanging out with the elitist Christian crowd. I had met a couple of them from the soccer team I was on; the progress I had made without a pinch of athletic ability was nearly unheard of.
All was going well until that visit. I was never ashamed of my family, but I had heard the kind of conversations my dad would have with the people he met in Walmart. It was essentially like bar talk; nothing was sacred in the aisles of Tide and Nabisco cookies. If there was something to be said, my dad would state it as bluntly as possible, no matter the neighborhood the conversationalist hailed from. So when I saw Elizabeth, a very influential but B-list popular girl, round the corner, I knew that we had to get away as quickly as possible. I made up a crush that I had on Elizabeth so that we could try and avoid her family, but that only fueled by dad’s flame. Momma knew the ramifications that could come from such an interaction, but I was too late.
My parents had known Elizabeth’s from soccer practice. The discussions there usually revolved around us, or about the team, or who was bringing the Capri Suns for Saturday’s game. There was never much concern of any personal details because at that time, they weren’t really close enough to disclose that kind of information. It had been a while since soccer season, and Southern white folk like to discuss personal things with people they haven’t seen in a while… even if they weren’t that close beforehand. I stood there looking at Elizabeth and her family as everyone started to talk. I wasn’t sure what was going to come, but I felt in my bones that something terrible was about to happen.
Elizabeth’s mom always had something noteworthy going on in her life, and most of the time, it was something absurd. Someone she knew had driven their car into their pool or she witnessed a fight at work and was almost strangled. From the kind of stories she told, it sounded more like she belonged in our neck of the woods instead of the upscale subdivision they lived in. Nothing would top the story she told that day; the story that eventually led to my downfall from the elitist Christians.
When a mishap like this happens, it’s hard to blame one individual party. My initial anger stormed toward my dad. He couldn’t have turned the candor off for just a second, but eventually, I chocked it up to fate and elitism. It was as if Elizabeth’s mom knew that I was gunning for a place in the elitist Christian circle, and as most people know, it’s much more difficult to move up in rank than it is to move down. High school was not the place to move upward, and I should have known better. After a little bit of small talk, Elizabeth’s mom started,
Well, things have been really difficult lately. I’ve been having colon problems, and I was actually hospitalized for a couple days. One day I was sitting at the house and then it happened. I felt something weird, and then I started… defecating… out of my mouth. It just backed up, and then I defecated out of my mouth.
There was nothing that could save us. Save her. Save anyone. I looked at my mom, and she gave me these eyes as if she were already apologizing to me. We knew that what come next couldn’t be good, so we just waited until my dad responded through broken laughter. I’m sorry, did you just say that you… shit… out your mouth? Mom gently closed her eyes and squeezed my hand as tightly as she could. Elizabeth’s mom turned to us, staring blankly as ever, Yes, that’s what I said.
As if that wasn’t enough, Dad needed clarification, So let me get this straight. You’re telling me that you shit… out of your face. Startled, as if Dad had just made some inappropriate joke about cancer or a dead baby, she composed herself and responded, Well, yes. I guess you could put it that way. Dad couldn’t stop laughing at everything that had just happened, and if I hadn’t had so much shallow hope riding on the situation, I probably would have, too. It’s not very often that our Friday nights were so spiced up with fecal stories, so it was an occasion to be had. Of course, Dad didn’t think too much of the situation, but I was devastated. I looked at Elizabeth as if it were the last time I would ever see her again, and if I remember correctly, it wasn’t long after that I was excommunicated to the other side of the classroom. My chair was gone in class and it was all at the hand of Elizabeth’s mommy’s potty mouth.
Sometimes I wish I could go back to those Friday nights and remind myself that the people I saw on Friday nights were probably much less important than I ever thought they were. Most of them are married with children now, living just a couple blocks down from the houses they grew up in. When I get lonely in the summers, looking for something to do, I find myself on the Chapman Highway Walmart looking around for another story that could rival some of the golden nuggets that I stumbled upon as a youngster. And in the end, I’m thankful that I never made it in to elitist Christian circle because if I had, I would be a husband, a father, and voting for Mitt Romney, and I’m not ready for any of those things.


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