The Glory Has Departed


Norma Boeckler, Artist in Residence

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Eve Grocery Shopping


Last year I worked at a Neighborhood Market, October-December. The staff warned me about Thanksgiving Eve - and it was hilarious.

My assumption is that people would want to buy the most important items days before the holiday, but I was wrong. Business was brisk before Thanksgiving, but nothing like Thanksgiving Eve. The big challenge was getting the backroom food out onto the shelves in the midst of crowds, especially those in the solid, packed baking aisle. Bumper to bumper traffic was normal most of the day.

The hiring assistant manager never shelved goods, but he joined the team on Thanksgiving Eve.

The baking aisle held the most delectable items, various forms of chocolate and nuts, in large ultra-fresh bags. But, getting them on the shelves was only part of the work. Everyone had a question, and many held recipes in their hands or mobile devices.

Nothing was worse than a man with a paper list, standing there in agony. One huge athlete told me he was getting a migraine trying to find items. I helped him with his pain.

The most amusing part of this was having a store jammed with people who failed to realize that Thanksgiving Eve shopping is fraught with shortages. Three-gallon containers of peanut oil for deep-frying turkey sold faster than bunnies at Easter, and we-were-out. I put together a package for one distraught freedom-fryer: three one-gallon jugs of peanut oil. "But that costs more than the three-gallon sale!" I hardened my heart against him, smiling.

We had a produce manager who was notoriously grumpy but hilarious in his caustic comments. Someone just had to ask me for Brussel Sprouts, and I had to go ask him. Customer service. So I asked, trying to hide my glee. He said with clenched jaws, spitting out each word. "No. We. Do. NOT!" I took the tragic news back to the shopper. Little Ichabod said, "Who expects Brussel Sprouts on Thanksgiving Eve?"

Nothing made me appreciate food items more than shelving them all day long. The coffee and creamer aisle smelled heavenly from the combination of the two, and that was enhanced by handling the bags of coffee and reaching into fresh boxes, getting hungrier by the minute. I do not use coffee creamer unless it is real whipped cream, but the formulations were made to entice, and those aromas were bewitching.

I tried new experiments and old favorites on food breaks. Vanilla Wavers were popular with everyone there, so I bought packages and left the rest of them to be shared. One said, "You bought these for me?" Yes. That was fun. I complained - "No one wanted to share my spicy hot roasted peanuts." A table-full groaned.

As one assistant manager confessed, "I take home food all the time after working in that aisle. I never bought food like this before working here." Being hungry and handling soup cases made me think about various combinations and flavors of soup. Likewise - beans. I wonder how those combinations tasted.

Customers would say things like, "Butter beans are the best, but make sure you get this kind." I was not asking for a suggestion, but that worked on me until I bought some to take home.

I also began to see how many healthy foods were also tempting. I bought dozens of canned mushrooms to add to eggs in the morning. I found that canned spinach was great for blood pressure and combined well with eggs. Shelving in the Asian and condiments meant I was exposed to every kind of flavoring and additive. They all looked good before the supper break.


I built a pantry in the Great Room, our name for the clean, unused garage. I built up our supplies with extra canned and paper goods. That came from the fact that I kept coming home - before working at Walmart - with a new case of paper towels. We had four large double packages at one point.

People like to complain about Walmart and wages. I joined after the universal starting wage was raised to $9 an hour and then $10. Wages for similar jobs went up all over the area.

More importantly, I saw people around me promoted in three months. Doc, the backroom guy who delivered a case of Baby Gerkin pickles onto the floor on his first day - was given full-time work and benefits in his first three days. In other words, mistakes are forgiven. The CEO ran his car into his boss's car the first day of his job, so there is a precedent.

Several others that I knew best were promoted in that time. One guy refused to help me clean up a mess. "I am not in maintenance anymore," he said as he smiled. That was neat. A very hard-working single mom got to move to customer service, and she was beaming. It meant so much less physical labor and a chance to work up the ladder.

I took an early retirement because teaching got busy again and the work made writing difficult to manage with the effect of relaxing, all-day work four days of the week. I am fortunate to enjoy the monthly Walmart meetings and know what the average worker feels like.



On New Year's Eve I insisted on a Southern tradition - Black-eyed Peas and greens. The first is for luck. The second is for money. If you are in the South for New Year's Eve, do not go looking for either item.

The first cold rain of autumn, which was yesterday, calls for chili. People poured in for chili, holding their little recipe slips.