Steven Ivory

*At the supermarket, I noticed a  woman, probably in her early thirties, pensively   perusing  an aisle of baked goods. I noticed her because of the man, also thirty-something, maybe her husband or boyfriend,  bringing up her rear.  He was pushing a shopping cart.   

The man knew what he was doing. He was behind her but not so close that if she suddenly paused  while examining her grocery list, he’d collide with her backside.  Yet he wasn’t so far away  that she couldn’t load the cart with ease. Skilled, he gave her plenty space, but was never far away when she needed to empty her arms.

Quietly, they seemed to enjoy themselves shopping,  giggling  among the dried pasta; asking one another if they already had this or that at home.    

I found the couple striking in the way you find interesting  the things  you don’t see much anymore.  Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t come upon couples in the supermarket very often.  When was the last time you pushed a cart for someone, or–and I hate to bring it up–had one pushed for you?  

Truth be known, there can be more than detergent, eggs and produce riding on that cart. In a relationship, some women want certain things. For some of them, one of those things  is  a man who will push their shopping  cart.  Sounds insignificant, but it’s not.

The politics of a man pushing that cart  for  a woman are no different from what is vital in a healthy  relationship. Communication as to what you’ll buy is required before you even step inside the store.  And it takes patience to stand there while she ponders a name brand or Brand X. There must be compromise over what the two of you want, and mutual respect for your differences.

In this sense, the shopping cart can be where the rubber meets the store linoleum, so to speak. He may profess her to be the apple of his eye, but which apple–Delicious, Granny or Gala? Some lousy relationships could have been averted long before they happened if, in the heat of dizzying passion, someone possessed enough gumption to ask, “Yeah, but will you  push my shopping cart?”

I discovered the gravity of pushing a shopping cart for a woman when I was a kid, by pushing my mother’s.  I don’t remember  when  I went from monkeying around  on the front of the cart to chauffeuring it, but the transition happened early.  

She didn’t explain much verbally.   Mostly it was through her doting implication that I learned to navigate a cart despite uncooperative wheels. I learned  not to stray with the cart and, at all costs,  stay off mama’s heels.  

Except for the cereal and candy sections, rolling down aisle after aisle was a seemingly hours-long  waste of  a Saturday morning–until we’d get to the check out stand. That’s when mama, with the cordial gratitude of a girl who’d just been walked from the homecoming dance to her door, would thank me for pushing the cart.  She appreciated one of her kids helping her,  since  daddy sure as hell didn’t.  

Indeed, on the Saturday mornings of my youth, the parking lots of Oklahoma City supermarkets and shopping centers were routinely dotted with Buicks and Pontiacs and Chevys and pick up trucks and Cadillacs occupied by men sitting idly.

They’d be reading the paper or nodding off, wearing fedora hats and overcoats in the winter, or with the windows down and a baseball radio broadcast turned up  during summer. All of them had in common the ritual of waiting, sometimes with restless kids and/or a dog in the back seat, as their wives shopped.  

These men abided by the manly notion that they’d drive her to the store and pay for the goods,  but under no circumstances were they coming inside. Not always, but sometimes that says a lot. My parents loved one another, for sure. But some of what it takes to peacefully push the cart, mama and daddy lacked.  

Apparently, so did the Worthys, just up the street from us. I used to hear mama and Miss Davis gossip about the otherwise kind and hardworking  Mr. Worthy’s indiscretions. For years the Worthy marriage seemed as solid as a frozen holiday turkey–until a friend of Mr. Worthy informed  him  that he spotted Mrs. Worthy at HIS neighborhood Safeway early one weekday morning, with another man.

Forget the ’60s Johnny Taylor classic, “Who’s Making Love To Your Old Lady;” lots of guys are willing to do that. Here’s the deeper query: who’s willing to push your old lady’s shopping cart?  

Who’s meeting your woman across town at a Food Lion  she doesn’t normally patronize and is willing to push  that cart of groceries just to spend time with her?   Who pushed the cart that carried the coffee YOU drank this morning?  Since Mr. Worthy wouldn’t do it, Mrs. Worthy found somebody else to push her cart.  That and the subsequent divorce was the  blather of  the East Side.  

There is shopping cart culture. You can  discern what people have going on at home by what goes on at the cart.  Couples who are tightlipped as they shop unwittingly speak volumes. His disdainful objection to practically everything  she  puts in  the cart is a sign.       

Today, I don’t see men waiting in cars.
Mostly, I see men and women alone, pushing their own carts. Or I see people like me, who risk a hernia by loading up one of those little hand baskets rather than push a cart by themselves.

Steven Ivory is a journalist/author who has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years.  Respond to him via [email protected]