While picking up cat treats at the supermarket, I observed a couple contemplating the tape selection.
“You grab tape and I’ll get the dog food,” he said and turned to walk toward me. The woman in the pair asked, “What kind of tape do you want, Scotch brand or does it matter?” before noticing he’d turned. He continued walking away without answering, distracted by the delectable bags of Purina.
“Oh great. I ask you a question and you just walk away.” She said, and sighed as I passed.
We caught each other’s eye and I smiled. “Of course. He’s the only one with an opinion,” I remarked as I passed her.
And she immediately began to back up, “No! My opinion counts. I know that.”
Oh, honey. I was racing those barrels while your momma was still teaching you what a horsie was.
My kindest smile pushed onto my lips.
“No, no,” I replied. “I didn’t mean THAT! I meant that he’s the only one who cares about the tape brand. Just like my wife. I could care less about the tape brand – scotch, generic, whatever – but she has an opinion. Only 3M Blue tape, only gaffers tape, only matte finished clear Scotch tape.”
“Yes!” She exclaimed. “Oh yes! Exactly.”
We smiled at each other, and Stephanie said into my ear. “You know I’m right here. I heard everything you said.”
Ever since Covid scurried across the country, our grocery store trips send me in person and her in my headphones. Steph’s voice keeps me company as I work my way through the grocery store, asking her about things she wanted or whatever comes to mind.
“See you around.” I grinned at the woman and continued on my shopping journey.
“Nice to meet you.” She called as I turned into the perimeter aisle of the store.
“Everything you said.” Stephanie said again.
“I know. Did I say anything that wasn’t true?”
“Well,” I double-checked my basket against my list. “No worries then.”
When I was a young housewyfe, my first grocery shopping trip for the household was a disaster. I picked up all the regular necessities, beginning our condiment journey.
Don’t you have a condiment journey? Condiments that came to your home to invigorate your cooking and now sit going ever so slowly bad in your refrigerator door because you just know you’ll use them again someday? I mean maybe you only use that one to make that amazing Indian dish that you haven’t made in years but, why throw away good condiments?
Anyway, I picked up tuna, mayonnaise, blueberries, flour, milk, butter. All the things needed to make dinner and blueberry muffins and tuna sandwiches for lunch. Stocking the refrigerator and the pantry, I rejoiced in the usefulness of my efforts, the way that my visiting the grocery store freed Stephanie to work while I made our household go.
When Stephanie came home for lunch, she opened the refrigerator door and there, on the main shelf, sat the milk, mayo, and blueberries.
My pride radiated from me. I was going to be a terrific housewyfe, even if I couldn’t find a job yet.
And she said, “Miracle Whip?! You got Miracle Whip?!”
Well, shit. I’d done bad. I thought that’s what you got when you went to get mayonnaise. Miracle Whip equaled Mayonnaise.
Please don’t think less of me. I didn’t know from the stuff then. It wasn’t something I ate except mixed into tuna, and I didn’t care what type I ever got. The Miracle Whip had been on sale.
Stephanie quickly explained to me.
Miracle Whip = Salad Dressing.
Hellmans = Mayonnaise.
Also, only whole milk and Bumblebee albacore tuna fish and real butter.
The jar of Miracle Whip was dealt with somehow (I can’t remember after almost thirty years). Stephanie shopped with me the next time (I made her go with!), and we worked our way through the store so my knowledge of her preferences could grow into an understanding. From then on, Hellmans was our house mayo until we moved to North Carolina, when we changed to Dukes.
All of this is to say that Stephanie cares about certain brands and types of things, and I care about others, and generally we don’t clash about the ones the other prefers. For many, many years, we only bought Northern Quilted Toilet Paper, but not the deluxe kind because it’s too linty. Then, our whole world upended when we realized that Northern was owned by the Koch brothers somehow.
Political boycotts wove into my shopping life early. As a child, my mother eliminated everything Nestle from our shopping list to protest their promotion of baby formula in third world countries. I still feel guilty if I find the Nestle brand name on something I bought, even though the boycott ended in 1984.
So, the search began. Since we were switching it up, I thought maybe we could use something substantially cheaper, but with enough heft that we could also use the same roll to blow noses if necessary. Single-ply toilet paper was definitely not substantial enough and felt harsh against Steph’s bum. We settled on Angel Soft for a while, but, during the pandemic, all of the toilet paper disappeared. With this opportunity, we walked away from toilet paper almost altogether and finally installed the little in-toilet bidet we’d ordered years before. Soft, terry cloth rags took over the job of toilet paper for the most part. However, we do still use a little toilet paper for, you know, sticky situations. The store-brand recycled variety works well. Two-ply, of course, and that seems to be working for Steph. I do think she misses the Northern though.
As I think on it now, I was trained by my childhood to simultaneously care less and more about brands through my mother’s search for value. She trained me to look for the first generic labels, plain black writing on white backgrounds. While I happily ate cereal from a bag instead of a box, I rebelled against the generic Spaghettios.
They just aren’t the same.
The other thing that made me think differently about brands was the inevitable seepage of brand names into our grocery lists. Kleenex for tissue, for example, and in the south, Coke for soda. In fact, when I ventured across the state line from Arkansas into Missouri, I discovered that there was a debate about whether to call it “soda” or “pop.” Asked my habit, I admitted we called it “Coke” no matter what the brand or flavor.
That particular practice caused me no end of grief when I waitressed at a chain restaurant where they only served Pepsi products. “What would you like to drink?” I would ask.
“Oh, I’ll have a coke,” the patron would reply, continuing to read the menu.
As trained, I would continue the conversation. “We only have Pepsi. Is that all right?”
This practiced line always confused the patron who was expecting the traditional, “What kind of coke would you like?”
Sometimes they said yes. Most of the time, they clarified that they would like a 7-Up or Mountain Dew or Dr. Pepper.
Which reminds me of a story Steph likes to tell about visiting Texas for the first time. Going into a Dairy Queen to pick up a drink, she watched the woman in front of her turn to the small band of children to her side and ask, “What kind of coke you want? Dr. Pepper?”
“That’s when I knew we’d entered the South,” she’ll say as she giggles.
For the longest time, I couldn’t tell why she thought that was funny. Made perfect sense to me.
“Oh! I forgot the hot dogs,” I said as I turned back and hurried past the dog food aisle to the cold case. Nathan’s were on sale. Hebrew Nationals was our brand forever, but recently I began grabbing Nathan’s as well. Ballpark and others I grew up with are off the table. Buns were around the corner. I grabbed a bag of the store brand, but the potato buns are her preference but cheapest, squishiest white buns will serve since it can be hard to source the potato ones in hot dog form.
I don’t mind these small indulgences. They mean little to our overall life. When one of you has a preference for something, unless there’s a pressing financial need, I say, go ahead. Get the thing that they want. Or get the thing that you want. It’s not about giving your power to the other person. It’s about indulging their preference.
And that’s ok.
That’s the give and take of a normal relationship. That’s the “Hey, I got hot dogs for us for lunch one day this week” and having the other person know that you got the good hot dogs. That you got the real mayo and not “salad dressing.” That you got red grapes, not the green ones. Whatever the thing you take the time to ask “Do you have a preference” about. That’s what it is.
What kind of tape do you want?