The Shopping List

A pen and a notepad went everywhere with Mum, and there were numerous ones amongst the house. In the kitchen, on the bench and on the fridge; by the phone; on the coffee table in the lounge; next to the computer; by her bed.

Lists were daily, weekly, seasonally, yearly. They covered cleaning, meals, shopping, To-Do, To-Buy, To-Make.

The first list I remember Mum teaching me – however inadvertently, like all her best lessons – was the Shopping List.

I remember her leaning on the kitchen bench, checking the cupboard and writing. Checking the fridge and writing. Checking the pantry and writing. She would send us kids to check the bathroom. And she would ask us what we wanted that week – this would sometimes and sometimes not get added to the list. If we asked for a new pen, we might have some success – but if we asked for Fruit Loop cereal – we nearly always missed out.

The Shopping List was written in three columns. The first was pantry and cupboard items – and would always start with bread and cereal, followed by any other items we needed. The middle column was fresh items – and it always started with milk and margarine, and continued to fruit and vegetables. The last column was toiletries and cleaning products. At the bottom right would be the list of meat – this was separate because generally this came from the butcher, not the supermarket.

Whomever went shopping with Mum – it didn’t matter which one of us kids, and nor how old we were – had the job of crossing off the list. I think I learnt to read by this method. Mum would push the trolley and as she loaded another item, she would say – ‘Did you cross off tinned tomatoes?’ or ‘Don’t forget to cross off carrots’. As we got older and could read a little more fluently, we would reciprocate: ‘Did you get gravy?’ or ‘Don’t forget the toothpaste’.

When times were tight, Mum also carried a calculator and added up as she went. This was always her job. But when we reached the checkout – it was our turn to add it up. We would each have to guess how much the groceries were this week. There was no prize here – just the personal satisfaction that you had beaten the others by getting closest to the actual amount.

Mum paid in cash – out of the budget envelopes she carried in her purse. I remember the awkwardness of miscalculating and having to put items back. But I also remember the joy at getting a milky way thrown into the trolley on good days too.

Online shopping has of course changed the way we can shop now. You can save your ‘trolley’ and add up as you go. There are now fridges with internet screens and apps to scan your barcodes when you empty a packet of peas. But nothing will ever beat the simply pen and notepad stuck on the fridge, or the very simply three column shopping list. It’s how I do it. Why? It’s how I was taught, of course.

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