I have wanted to have a Publix grocery store close enough to shop at for as long as I can remember. That feeling goes way back. All the way back to those years as a newly married girl living in Tallahassee, working, going to college, and setting up my very own first kitchen.
It was a nice little apartment, during the era of harvest gold wall to wall carpet and avocado green appliances; or was it avocado green wall to wall carpet and harvest gold appliances? The local Publix was my first grocery store as a “married woman.” It was where I almost daily selected raw materials from which to craft a life and a lifestyle.
Publix is a Lakeland, Florida-based supermarket chain that has had that “x” quality, an ability to be just ahead of the curve on trends which makes them seem to be delivering some new amenity that their target market doesn’t yet know it was yearning for until suddenly they glide through the glass doors and find it at Publix.
I was newly wed, with brand new pots, pans, utensils, a set of sleek black Dansk china, chunky Scandanavian style flatware, and a red and white spiral-bound Betty Crocker cookbook. The year was 1971.
When Mother called to ask how I was getting along and I honestly answered, “Great! I’m having fun,” she couldn’t take yes for an answer and asked again, saying, “Tell me, really. How are you?” and when I once again affirmed my happy state, she stunned me by lowering her voice to a whisper and saying, “Honey, does he beat you?”
I laughed it off, then, but it gives me a chill now to think what darkling memory in her own dim past might have been behind that question.
Ah, well, that was so long ago and in another life; I wouldn’t even be remembering it now if it weren’t past midnight and I hadn’t gotten back out of bed after being asleep for an hour, awakened and made restless by a thunder storm, and started thinking about Publix and my friendly neighborhood Albertson’s grocery store.
Publix has bought out all four of the Albertson’s stores here in Pensacola, and I am getting what I have wanted all these years. But now, I worry about that “R” word which comes into play when one corporation buys out another and a new corporate culture arrives with its own nation-building model. The “R” word is re-personnel.
Buck and I are in and out of “our” grocery store four or five times a week. We know all the faces and they know ours. We have cried together when one of their employees, a fellow I called Albertson’s Ambassador of Goodwill, lost his courageous battle with leukemia a few years ago. I have commiserated with one of the clerks on her difficult divorce (is there any other kind?), and we enjoy bantering with the college boys who check out our grocercies as they hand off cans, jars, apples and oranges with the movement of athletes.
There is a guy who, I swear, lives in the produce department. I have never been in the store when he is not there: neat, cheerful and unfailingly professional, his hands always moving to pluck out an orange past its prime, or reorganize stacks of fresh sweet corn.
There’s another guy I call “stump the band,” because he’s the one I look for anytime I can’t find some item on my list. He not only knows where it is now, but where it used to be before the latest shelf reorganization. He reunited me with my half-full cart once when a nice older gentleman had accidentally made off with it, adding a bundle of flowers for his wife.
I’m thinking about a young woman with Down’s syndrome who has been bagging groceries and helping out in other ways for some years at the store. You will never find a more loyal employee or one more proud of her job.
The manager reminds me of an old-fashioned shop keeper who appears to be a caring shepherd to his flock of workers and customers, always bustling about and opening up a new register to man himself when it’s needed. “Come on over here. I’ll take you on through over here.”
I know that every employee in the store will, essentially, be fired and have to apply for their job again. This process has already begun. The mood in the store is by turns somber, hopeful, just plain scared, or cautiously optimistic.
So. After all these years I am finally getting what I want: a Publix to be my very own neighborhood grocery store once again.
I just hope we’ll be seeing all our old friends wearing the new corporate logo, that life can go on substantially as before, and that we can continue to stroll companionably down the aisles together.