Our monthly trips to Vidalia had become a routine when I learned that shopping with two octogenarians is far more complicated than shopping with one. On a spring afternoon when a thunderstorm was threatening, Granny called with news about our trip: “Lennie Mae is in town for a few days. She’s staying at Marcella’s. I think she’d love Nocksu’s (Granny’s pronunciation of Natsu), don’t you? Marcella don’t feel like going, but Lennie Mae does. I’ll pick you up, and then we’ll go get her.” I told her that I would be ready and called Natsu to change our reservation.
At 6:00 p.m. sharp, Granny wheeled into the driveway. I scrambled to the car and took the driver’s seat. We then drove to Aunt Marcella’s, where Granny instructed me to blow the horn despite my offer to go to the door. Smiling agreeably, Aunt Lennie Mae slowly emerged and ambled to the car with the assistance of a borrowed cane. I jumped out to help her in, and off we went. I listened with awe as the two of them fluidly shifted from topic to completely unrelated topic without missing a beat. The weather, Aunt Marcella’s ill mood, the number of cakes Granny intended to bake after stocking up on Parkay and cream cheese that evening, Mrs. Y’s terrible breath, the person who sang off key at church, and the latest episode of The Millionaire (Granny’s name for Who Wants to be a Millionaire?) all made the cut.
Dinner at Natsu was relatively uneventful, but business picked up when we got to Wal Mart. I let the two of them out at the entrance and drove off to find a space. When I walked in, I saw Granny standing with her hands on her hips and Aunt Lennie Mae sitting at a booth inside MacDonald’s. The drive over and dinner had taken the starch out of my aunt, and she didn’t feel like shopping. Granny ordered her “not to go nowhere,” grabbed my aunt’s modest grocery list, looked at me, and said, “Come on! She’ll be all right.” I started to walk away when I heard Granny shout, “Hold it!” The words “you are under arrest” did not follow, but they may as well have. She fumbled in her purse for a few moments before she retrieved three crumpled shopping lists, which she thrust, along with Aunt Lennie Mae’s, into my hand. She had offered to pick up items for Mama, Aunt Marcella, and Aunt Marcella’s neighbor, Mrs. C., who asked only for a package of Depends, but delegated the task of gathering these items, which had to be kept separate, to me. Including my own things, I would have five different orders in my cart. Great.
By the time we were through shopping, my cart threatened to overflow. Granny had picked up quite a few goods too. We were wheeling into the aisle with the shortest line when Granny declared, “We’ve got to have some help. We can’t get all of this to the car. I’m going to ask somebody.” I tried to explain that Wal Mart does not have bag boys, but she did not hear a word. Instead, she scanned the check out area for prospects. Her gaze settled on a young African-American man who was chatting up a cashier, and I saw the wheels turning.
“Oh, Granny, no! That guy doesn’t work here. He’s a customer. You can’t ask him to help us load the car.”
“Sure I can. He won’t mind. I’ll pay him. Here, go ask him and give him this five dollar bill. He’ll be glad to help.”
“No ma’am. I can’t do that. Let me get t he buggies to the car.”
“Yes ma’am. Let me do it! I promise I can do it.”
I didn’t know how I was going to manage two buggies since Granny was apparently not going to help with hers, but I did know that I was not about to humiliate myself or anyone else by asking that young man to play Hoke to Granny’s Miss Daisy. I convinced her to ask the cashier if someone who actually worked there might assist us, but after waiting ten minutes for the stock boy the cashier had paged to show up, Granny became agitated. That is when I boldly grabbed the carts, pushing one with my right hand and pulling the other with my left. “Granny, go get Aunt Lennie Mae and wait inside the front door. I am going to load the car and pick you up.” I quickly moved away before she could stop me.
When I approached the door, I saw to my dismay that the storm had caught up with us. It was punishing the parking lot with torrential rain and powerful winds. I had come too far to stop though. I ducked my head and scooted to the car as quickly as I could. I began to sling the bags into the trunk when I remembered that counting Granny’s, I had six orders that had to be kept apart. Rain was pouring down my neck as lightning flashed overhead, but somehow I got the slippery bags loaded and pulled to the door. I jumped out to help Aunt Lennie Mae into the car when Granny yelled, “Hold it! I can’t find my rain bonnet, and Melva ordered it special for me.” I could not believe it. I had an idling Cadillac whose rear end threatened to scrape the ground with the weight of our purchases blocking the entrance, an eighty-eight year old aunt tottering into the rainy night on a cane, and the makings of an impromptu wet t-shirt contest on my hands, and she wouldn’t leave without her $1.69 rain bonnet? The nearest cashier stared blankly when Granny asked her to announce that someone had lost a rain bonnet. I thought my grandmother might make a scene because she was not used to being ignored, but Granny began retracing her steps instead and handing out dollar bills to everyone she passed to enlist help. Thankfully, someone quickly found it so that we could leave.
Finally, I managed to get both ladies into the car. I couldn’t get out of Dodge fast enough. Rivulets of mascara stained rain drops dripped from my chin as I squealed on to the highway, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to get home to a hot shower and soft bed as soon as possible. That’s when Granny said, “Hold it! Did you get them Depends?” Oh no. I had forgotten Mrs. C.’s one request. “What does she want them old pads for anyway?” Granny asked. Aunt Lennie Mae, retorted, “Delorease, she needs them. We can’t go back without them.” Repulsed at the mere thought of going back to Wal Mart, I told them that I would run out to Winn Dixie when we got back to Claxton and get the “pads.” I was certain that the blinding flood through which I was driving while Granny made phone call after phone call on her mounted mobile phone to see if it was raining at home would have stopped by then.
We got to Claxton despite the flashes of lightning that made the world look like a photo negative every thirty seconds or so, and I picked up the Depends. The shopping trip from hell was almost over, but the storm wasn’t. I pulled up at Aunt Marcella’s, helped Aunt Lennie Mae inside, and searched through the packages in the trunk to find those belonging to her and to Aunt Marcella while the rain slid down my neck and under my collar. Meanwhile, Granny, who wasn’t about to sit in silent seclusion while she waited for me to finish, tried to roll down her window and somehow locked the doors instead. She fumbled with various switches and buttons while I remained stranded in the rain. She finally let me back in the car, and I started to pull away when I saw Aunt Lennie Mae stick her head out. I rolled down my window to hear her say, “I left Marcella’s cane in the car…but that’s all right.” I put the car in park, got back out in the pouring rain, and took her the cane. When I got back to the car, Granny had accidentally locked me out again. By the time she figured out how to let me in, I could have filled a gallon bucket by wringing my shirt.
Next, we stopped at my mother’s to drop off her things. By this time it was after 10:00 p.m. Daddy walked out to help me, and Granny, of course, had to say hello. Pressing buttons in the dark, she locked me out in the rain a third time. Once I got back in and drove over to her house to take her groceries in for her, I was shedding silent tears, which the rain handily disguised. After we put her things away, she drove me home and chattered obliviously while I unloaded my bags. I thanked her for a lovely evening, stumbled inside, crammed the items requiring refrigeration into my fridge, and struggled to peel my sodden clothing from my skin. I was stepping into the shower when the phone rang. Who on earth would call my house after 10:30? That’s when I heard Joe shout, “It’s your Granny!” Now what? I wrapped myself in a towel and picked up the receiver.
“What’s the number for Wal Mart?”
“Granny, I don’t know. What’s…?”
“I can’t find my Parkay, and I told Jean Surrency I’d make her a pound cake.”
“Granny, did you look…?”
“It’s not in my things, and Marcella don’t have it. I told Jean Surrency I’d make her a pound cake.”
“Did you call Mama?”
“No, but I need to call Wal Mart and tell them I want my Parkay and cream cheese. I told Jean Surrency I’d make her a pound cake.”
“Granny, we can’t go back over there tonight. Let’s look some more first.”
“But I told Jean Surrency I’d make her…”
“Well, let me look through my things again and call Mama.”
I didn’t have her items, but Mama did, and she had put them in the storage room refrigerator. I called Granny back in triumph to explain that her things were safe and sound in Mama’s refrigerator, from which she could get them in the morning. She responded, ” Well, I told Jean Surrency I’d make her a pound cake tonight, and she’ll be looking for it in the morning.” Then nothing but expectant silence. I knew what I had to do. I pulled my wet clothes back on and went back out in the rain to get Granny’s Parkay for her. When I pulled up at her house, she opened the back door and seemed to notice my soaked hair and skin for the first time. I felt one large tear roll past my nose when she took the bag from me and exclaimed, ” Why did you want to get out in this weather at 11:00 at night? I’m not in no hurry. I can’t bake a cake this late. I’m ready to go to bed!”
Not believing my ears, I said, “Because you…Granny, you…I don’t know, Granny.”
“Well, go home and get to bed. You have work tomorrow. I love you.”
“I love you too, Granny. Goodnight.”