Since I moved to Mt. Kisco two years ago, I have been an outsider looking in, trying to figure out how to become part of this new Northern Westchester world. I do a lot of observing, watching people for hints, hoping not to stand out, wanting to blend in, if not belong. Just as teenagers study their peers for clues to popular dress, music, style, and actions, so I watch my contemporaries, to learn the accepted mode of behavior.
My laboratory was the supermarket. I had to be there several times a week, and plenty of other women were pushing their shopping carts. Many of the women I saw were beautifully groomed, usually thin, excessively polite, and very, very remote. They all seemed to be moving in their own little icebergs. So, I copied their behavior, and I too became cool, said excuse me a dozen times or more on each shopping trip, and smiled at everyone less and less.
These women seemed to be on a mission in the supermarket and there was no time for pleasantries. Often the cashier was the only one who broke a grin. I accepted this as the way things were. My eyes stayed on the shelves of food, or on my list, or on the ends of my shopping cart, which I was careful to navigate without touching other carts, which would occasion another one of the excuse me’s that I mentioned earlier.
This changed dramatically last Friday when I went to my local A & P for some food for the upcoming Passover seder. Suddenly I joined a sorority of other women shoppers. It all began quietly, in the fresh vegetable section, when several women stared at the few pitiful bunches of parsley left on the shelves. One woman spoke aloud, “There is no flat parsley left, plenty of curly, but no flat.” Following that pronouncement, several women started debating the merits of different parsleys. One woman insisted that flat parsley improved the flavor of her chicken soup. Another stated her mother used curly parsley so that’s what she did. Another woman, an activist, actually notified a worker in the department, and we all patiently waited for his return with the flat parsley we were seeking. I turned to one of the shoppers and said, “I can’t find the leeks.” She had spied them and told me where to go.
All of a sudden, it was us against the supermarket, and I was finally in the “us.” There was another queue at the butcher counter where several ladies were awaiting the shank bones, necessary for the seder plate. We created a minor traffic jam with our shopping carts as we waited for the butcher to come out with the cellophane-wrapped bones. When he appeared with one, we sent him back for more, each woman expressing her needs, “Bring one, no two, no three, no four!”
Finally, as I made my way to the checkout, I noticed one woman speaking to the manager and asking for matzah, any kind would do. She seemed distraught. I questioned her, “Do you mean there is no more matzah?”
“Yes,” she answered.
“Well,” I said, pointing out the obvious, “you may be a little late.” Her exasperated answer was, “Not me, my daughter. I just came up from Florida.” She listed all the supermarkets she had tried. It seemed there was no more matzah in all of Northern Westchester County.
“We have plenty,” I volunteered. I remembered the commandment to invite a stranger to your table and share your food with him. “Please let me share them with you.” I knew she would not take me up on my offer but said the words anyway, because that morning, my image of my new neighborhood was finally beginning to change. The icebergs were beginning to melt.
Was it the upcoming Jewish holiday with its theme of people being forced to leave their homes and wander into new areas? Maybe it was the universality of food and shopping preparation that connected all of us. Maybe it was our Judaism that overcame the stiffness and remoteness that I had felt before. I left the supermarket feeling that the masks the other shoppers wore came off, and maybe this really might become home.
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