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Darrell Huckaby - Grocery runs used to be more orderly affairs

I was sitting around the kitchen table with my lovely wife, Lisa, and a few close friends the other day and the talked turned to gasoline prices. Imagine that. We all began brainstorming about ways to cut down on fuel consumption and somebody mentioned combining trips to the store. Now that sent me thinking.

Believe it or not, I do most of the grocery shopping at our house.

OK. I do some of the grocery shopping at our house.

Would you believe that I go to the store sometimes?

At any rate, the point is, we don't plan our meals ahead - and when you have as many people at home as we do - especially people going in so many different directions, it is much easier to just take a head count every afternoon and run to the store and pick up what you need for that night's meal. And I know I'm not the only one who does that, because I see the same people at the Publix store every afternoon.

Some of them are pretty cute, too - which is one of the reasons I don't mind grocery shopping, but don't tell Lisa I said that.

But shopping on a daily basis is time consuming, and those trips to the store add up - especially when gasoline is approaching $4 a gallon. So one of my summer resolutions - and one way I can flick my finger at the money-grubbing oil companies - is to buy a week's worth of groceries at a time. It will require a little planning, but I am certain it can be done, because when I was growing up in Porterdale - back in the previous millennium - my daddy did it all the time.

That's right. Homer Huckaby brought home the bacon at our house - literally - and the eggs and loaf bread, too. He worked on the second shift at the mill, you see, and it just made sense for him to go the store in the morning hours, when it wasn't so crowded. I, of course, went with him and looked forward all week to the experience.

Thursday was grocery day at the Huckaby household. I think it might have had something to do with the fact that Friday was payday at the mill. If you wrote a check on Thursday, it wouldn't clear before the following Monday. You'd better not try that these days, though. In fact, most places have the money out of your account before the ink on your check is dry - but that's another story for another day.

We were talking about buying groceries. Sometimes, Daddy would go to the store that had the most specials - but usually we shopped at Big Apple. I think that was the store that gave out S&H Green Stamps.

Daddy had a system for shopping. He would buy what he called the staples first - and he always bought certain brands - like Sealtest milk and Maxwell House coffee and Peter Pan peanut butter. Then he would buy the produce and finally the meat and milk. He bought them last so they wouldn't be out of the cooler so long and he looked long and hard at every package of beef, pork or poultry he picked up. If the prices were too high - which they often were, he would put it right back down and we'd have Spam for supper, or salmon patties.

I think the only frozen food we ever bought were chicken pot pies.

When I go to the store, I have no system. I just push the buggy up and down the aisles, picking up everything that looks tasty. We have a pantry full of food that looked more tasty in the store than when I got it home. I often get home without the very thing I went after, too - which means a second trip to the store - and more $4-a-gallon gasoline burned.

Of course, the shopping system, or lack thereof, isn't the only thing that has changed at the grocery store. There used to be a produce man, for instance. He would weigh up the fruits and vegetables and mark the price on the bag with a grease pen. Now you are on your own to pick out and bag your produce and the person at the register weighs it. Sometimes you actually have to identify the fruit for them, of course.

Another thing that has changed is the checkout procedure itself. I used to love to watch a good checker ring up prices on the old-fashioned cash register. Some were more accomplished with their fingers than a concert pianist.

And grocery stores had bag boys in those days who would not only bag your groceries but also push them out to the car and load them in the boot for you. "Boot" is a Southern word that means "trunk" in case you aren't from around here.

Of course, the best part of a trip to the grocery store was what my mama would do with the food when we got it home. That, too, is another story for another day, but I can tell you this - nothing she did with any of it involved a microwave or a toaster oven.

But I really am turning over a new shopping leaf this summer. I'll see y'all at the Big Apple - every Thursday morning.

Darrell Huckaby is a local author and educator. He can be reached at dHuck08@bellsouth.net.