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Darrell Huckaby: Searching for 1963 in the grocery aisles

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

On a recent trip to my favorite grocery store, I decided to play a little game with myself. I pretended that it was 1963 instead of 2013. That’s right. I pushed the clock back 50 years. I channeled my inner Homer Huckaby and was bound and determined to buy only the things he would have bought on his weekly shopping spree.

That’s right, feminists. My daddy did the weekly grocery shopping — every Thursday morning — and heaven help you if you had left your school books or toys or anything else on the kitchen table when he started bringing the grocery bags up the back steps.

In keeping with the spirit of the game I had created for myself I drove to the store on Thursday morning. Now he would have done his shopping at either the Colonial Store or the Big Apple, depending on who had the best “specials” that week. Not having a Colonial Store or a Big Apple handy, I settled for the supermarket that I normally frequent.

As my daddy taught me, I purchased my staples first. I bought Peter Pan peanut butter, just as I always insisted he do when I went to the store with him. Skippy and Jiff might have been just as good, but I was a big fan of the boy who would never grow up — both the Mary Martin stage production which aired on television once a year and the Disney animated version which I saw at the Strand Theater. I wonder if my kids knew that’s why they ate Peter Pan peanut butter growing up — and still do.

After I put the peanut butter in the buggy I went in search of some grape jelly in a container that would make an attractive iced tea glass. Here I hit the first speed bump of the day. All the grape jelly I found came in plain old jars. I shrugged and picked up a jar anyway, even though we already had an abundance of Mary Anne Gordon’s homemade jelly on hand.

Then I put it back on the shelf, remembering one of my father’s primary rules was to never waste money on anything we didn’t need.

I needed coffee, however, so I wandered over to the coffee aisle. Here I encountered another problem. My folks always drank instant coffee. They used Maxwell House and it came in “the jar with the stars on top.” I do not drink instant coffee and as I was out of coffee and as sitting on the front porch drinking coffee is the most pleasant part of most of my mornings, I broke my own rule and bought a large can of the ground stuff. It was Maxwell House, however.

I also picked up a 5-pound bag of Dixie Crystals sugar, 5 pounds of White Lily flour and a bag of Aunt Jemima grits. Not instant grits and not quick grits — just plain old grits. I was doing good! I threw in a few cans of Vienna sausages — they still come seven to a can — and a couple of cans of Spam — they now open with a pull-top instead of that little key — and a box of Premium Saltines, which everyone knows are really soda crackers, and a box of original Ritz crackers.

I also bought a few cans of Campbell’s soup and some Le Sueur very young peas, and I could almost hear Dizzy Dean describing how Mickey Mantle “slud into third with a triple.”

Then I went to the produce section. That presented a problem. There was no produce man there to weigh my bananas and green beans. The weekly conversation with the produce man was one of the highlights of daddy’s trips to the store. If stores are going to install self-service cash register lines you know they aren’t going to pay someone to weigh up the produce and chat with the customers.

I picked out my own bananas and a bag of potatoes and headed to the dairy case. The butter was not a problem, but as I reached for a gallon jug of 2 percent milk I remembered that we never bought milk at the grocery store back in 1963. The Sealtest guy brought it right to our doorstep. I had already bought ground coffee and weighed up my own produce, however, so I just put the milk in the buggy, along with a couple pounds of butter, and went on to the meats.

There was no butcher on duty, either. Try as I might I couldn’t find a chicken that weighed less than 4 1/2 pounds and the price of a Sunday roast would have made Homer Huckaby choke on his own saliva. Nonetheless, I picked out a nice roast and a couple of pounds of ground chuck for meatloaf night, as well as a package of pork chops and a couple of steaks for Saturday night.

I didn’t bother visiting the soft drink aisle or the cookie aisle or the snack aisle because we didn’t keep soft drinks or cookies or snacks in our house back in the day.

We also didn’t spend $125 a week for groceries, which is what my tab came to. Since I was pretending it was 1963 I let the bagger — who used plastic bags — not paper — help me out to my car and put my groceries in the “boot” for me.

All in all I thought my experiment went well. Next week I am taking 50 cents and going to the picture show.