On Grocery Lists and Love

One of the clearest signs that I am in my parents’ house is the word “oleo” pseudo-legibly scribbled in pencil on the backside of an envelope held on to the refrigerator by a magnet.

Oleo is a useful word to know if you’re living in the Great Depression, or are a crossword fanatic, as my father is. He writes it in place of both butter and margarine on the grocery list.

I once ran in to an aggravated friend in the grocery store. He is part of a passionate marriage that I greatly admire. But, his wife had created the grocery list and had not put it in any sort of useful order. Apples followed cereal, followed by toothpaste, then back to the produce section for broccoli and over to the bakery aisle for hot dog buns. It was all too much for him.

My own husband has a disgusting habit of spelling yogurt with an “h.” Seriously, with an “h.” I can barely stand to type yoghurt, that’s how gross it looks to me. Almost as bad as the vile “o” the British insist on putting in “foetus” as though the word “fetus” weren’t quite gross enough without it.

He adds the extra “h” because he lived in Holland, and he’s a geographer who studies milk and most geography texts are written in British English. I understand, but there are days when I see “yoghurt” scrawled over two lines on my nice, neat shopping list and I think, “Dear God, why did I ever get married? What was I thinking? Can I really live the rest of my life with a man who  insists on not only writing “yoghurt” but writing it so large? Does he not know me at all?”

Then the next morning he is there, wrapped up by two children and a dog, all much too large to be snuggled in to our small bed. I think about how he worked from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm helping students who need this degree to make better lives for themselves. How he took time out of that marathon day to make sure his son’s last Hanukkah present wasn’t a bust. I think about how hard he laughs at even my smallest jokes, even when they’re directed at him. I hate that disgusting extra “h” but for today, it is no longer a deal breaker.

When I go home in a few weeks I hope my parents run out of oleo. I hope my dad notices it and writes it down. I hope my parents won’t mind if I secretly slip their grocery list in to my suitcase, to hold on to for a rainy day when I need to feel like I’m home.

This is what no one tells you about love. That it can all come down to the way you fill out a grocery list.

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3 Responses to On Grocery Lists and Love

  1. Amy says:

    Beautiful. One of my favorite columns!

  2. Sarah Erbil says:

    This was the most beautiful thing I’ve read in a long time. Thank you! I’ll hug my husband extra tight tonight.

  3. Winnifred says:

    Thanks for bringing back a great memory–oleo! My Mom always referred to margarine (which was always used instead of butter in my childhood home) as oleo. I hadn’t thought about that in so long. And yes, my significant other also rights items on my shopping list in HUGE letters, and disrupts the whole zen of shopping for me. 🙂 But you reminded me that it’s actually quite endearing.

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