It is, I believe, a distinct and unique trait of the South the way we carry on long conversations with people we are passing in the loaf bread section of the grocery store or in the checkout line.
In other places, where I’ve traveled and shopped, people don’t take up with complete strangers to discuss which fabric softener is best or how mayonnaise has tripled in price in the past handful of years or pontificate on why pimentos are not located on the same aisle as the pickles or olives. They should be. At least that’s what I and a stranger-friend decided the other day.
“Oughta put things where they make sense,” he said. And I agreed. “After all,” he continued, “if the grocery store folks used their common sense then the rest of us with common sense would know where to find ’em so we wouldn’t have to hunt somebody down and ask.” He shook his head in aggravation. “It would save all of us a bunch of time.”
Down South, the most entertaining of conversations is liable to spring forth over the virtues of frying bologna or how paprika is an under-appreciated seasoning, a spice that is capable of so much more than just decorating deviled eggs. I’ve noticed when I grocery shop in Los Angeles that people keep their eyes to themselves and their thoughts far from the reach of anyone close by who is pushing a cart. That’s right. In L.A., they have “carts.” No one there ever heard of a “buggy” in a food store.
My husband’s one of those sorts who likes to keep his eyes to himself, buy what he wants and get out.
“Really?” he asked the other day as he tagged behind me in the produce section. “Do you really think she’s interested that you cut up kale with kitchen shears?”
“Kale is a new-fangled vegetable to many,” I replied, plucking four slightly green bananas from a bunch of seven. “It’s bitter and that’s why most people won’t eat it. You have to cut it small. And if it’s eaten raw, it needs a sweet dressing with it.”
“I know. I heard you tell her all that. Good gracious. The way you people in the South carry on in the grocery store…” He grinned. Though such openness isn’t bred in him, he’s coming to enjoy it. Or perhaps it’s tolerance.
One day, in the bakery section, we encountered the same man a couple of times. As I selected hard rolls, he pushed his buggy around me and said, “I’m sorry. I just keep circling y’all.”
I laughed. “Like a coyote. You’re going in circles.”
He stopped, folded his arms and sighed heavily. “Coyotes. Boy, I’m telling you, they’re getting bad.”
Then he commenced a story of how he’d been seeing them off and on for quite a spell at his house but they had never bothered anything. Not that he knowed of, anyway. But a few days earlier, one grabbed his cat.
“I saw her up there in the tall grass and, suddenly, the grass started shaking. I run up there and one of ’em had hold of her. Dropped her when he seen me. Didn’t hurt her too bad but she’s got a place on her back that I’m having to doctor.”
While my husband watched in astonishment and listened wordlessly, I offered a couple of my own coyote stories. That’s what Southerners do. We respond with a story.
A week later, I ran by the grocery to pick up a few things including a package of individual coconut pies. The woman in the check-out line in front turned and studied the package.
“Those look good,” she remarked. She continued reading the package. “Whew, that’s a lot of calories.” She read a bit more. “Hmm, a lot of sodium. Are you sure you want that much sodium?”
Sometimes, the conversations can go too far.