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The People That You Meet

The Woolworths supermarket was the main attraction of my hometown, the beating heart of a rural metropolis. It was the modern equivalent of a town square, the place to meet and greet and catch up on local news. You’d go in for bread and milk and come out with the latest on hip operations, infidelity scandals and corruption on the local council.

“You’ll never guess who I ran into at Woolies the other day,” The Mothership would say in our weekly phone calls. She never saw people, she always ran into them. I’d always picture a violent collision of shopping trolleys, her half-price loaves of bread flying into the air and knocking down small children; escapee apples rolling down the aisle. Mum always chose the most fabulous verbs, even the most banal story became action-packed. “On Wednesday or was it Thursday, at 7 o’clock or was it 7.30, I jumped out of bed then dived into the shower, then I ducked down the street, dashed into the post office then zapped into Woolies…”

In a small town like ours there was about a 95% chance you’d run into someone down the aisles. “This will just be A Quick Trip To Woolies!” Mum would promise as my sister and I whined, “So you’ll not be waiting in the car, you’re coming in with me!” But there was no such thing as a Quick Trip To Woolies. It quite often started in the dairy section with Mum deeply absorbed in raking through what she called the Chuck-Out Bin, a place where marked-down near-death cheeses and yogurts lurked. To her an expiration date was not a recommendation but a challenge.

“Look at this, a six pack of Ski Fruit of the Forrest for only 99 cents!”

“Muuuu-um!”

“There’s nothing wrong with them!”

And then suddenly there’d be a tap her on the shoulder, followed by a chirping voice, “Hello Sharon!”

The Mothership would spin around in a flash, a welcoming smile automatically pasted on her face. She was used to this. It could be a neighbour, a colleague, a relative you didn’t like very much, or often in Mum’s case, the parent of one of the kids she taught. They always had something to say and didn’t mind taking half an hour to say it. They barricaded her in with their trolleys so she couldn’t escape.

Sometimes it was someone interesting that you’d genuinely want to catch up with, but it was more fun to watch when it wasn’t. She’d nod and smile at their scintillating stories with her arsenal of phrases like “Oh really”, “You’re joking” and “That’s terrible!”. It looked like she had their undivided attention but she was actually busy stopping our attempts to replace Chuck-Out Bin Yogurt with chocolate bars.

She could get stopped half a dozen times in one shop. Tap tap tap… Hello Sharon! Spin, smile, story time! Over and over again. It was incredibly tiresome for a couple of kids who were huuuun-gry and just wanted to go hooome. Rhi and I would amuse ourselves by spying on other people’s trolleys and making snap judgements on their contents, a habit we never grew out of. Ooh look, they’ve got Neopolitan ice cream and topside steak. And it’s not Home Brand Neopolitan either, the bastards!

Even when I grew up into a post-university sullen, unemployed bum, The Mothership would still drag me into Woolies; apparently I still wasn’t old enough to wait in the car. These expeditions filled me with terror. I didn’t have Mum’s diplomacy skills. Who would we run into today? What would they ask me? How much of an idiot would I look like? What if I saw one of my old teachers and they found out their swotty student has amounted to naught? There was nothing worse than being confronted with people from the past when the present and future are looking rather shoddy.

Most times we shopped late at night – for me it meant less chance we’d see someone we knew, for Mum it meant a greater chance the BBQ chickens would be reduced to half price. I’d still send her out in front of me, like a canary down a coal mine. But despite hiding behind cornflake displays or towers of oranges I’d soon enough feel the inevitable tap tap tap and perky greeting, Hello Shauna!

I’d do a feeble Spin and Grin. “Why helloooo!”

The questions were always the same. “So I hear you’ve finished your degree! What have you been up to?”

Oh plenty! I rise at noon to pull the blinds down so no one thinks I’m home, then I eat lots of ice cream and watch Days Of Our Lives. And then I curl up in a nest of rejection letters and cry great self-indulgent sobs, then it’s naptime until Walker: Texas Ranger comes on.

“Oh, not much.”

“So have you got a MAN yet?”

“Oh, not yet.”

“Well dear, it will happen when you least expect it!” Sympathetic pat on the shoulder. “And same goes for your job situation, I’m sure!”

And then I’d wallow in self-pity and paranoia, thinking they’d rush home and tell their families, “That Shauna, she peaked way too early.”

My fondest Woolies memory is the day Rhiannon abandoned Mum at the Chuck-Out Bin. She stalked her at a distance for about twenty minutes, waiting for the perfect moment. She tip-toed up behind as Mum examined a two-pack of garlic bread.

Tap tap tap. “HELLO SHARON!”

“Hellooooo!” The Mothership wheeled around, cheesy smile in place. Her face was thundercloud dark when she saw who it was. Rhiannon cackled and danced in the dairy aisle.

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About Shauna Reid

Ahoy there! I’m an author, copywriter and old school blogger. I love telling stories about life and helping my clients to tell theirs. Find out more about me and how we can work together.


26 thoughts on “The People That You Meet

  1. OMG! I just love stories like this! One of my favorite WUP post is also a shopping story, you know, about the people behind the cameras cackling with glee at the customers 🙂

    I have always wanted to write about my own shopping experience, but alas, nothing ever comes out, or even if it does, will not be half as funny as yours.

    I can just see your mom’s face… Thankfully I am in my own office but I am sure people on the other side of the door can still hear me laugh like a maniac. Thanks for the fun!

  2. hehehe! You crack me up! I had the same problem with my Mum at the Orange Woolies. And she would always spit my hair down in front of whoever it was – RAH! hehehehe!

  3. Ah, I understand those traumatic childhood experiences ALL TOO WELL. Only in my crap town it was Payless and you could not go in there without my mother stopping in every second aisle to gasbag to someone for half an hour or more. It was so painful and boring, we all hated going with her. Dad used to regularly do his block that she’d pop out for some groceries and disappear for up to 3 or 4 hours at a time, leaving him without the car.

  4. Ahhhhh! Woolies! You totally brought back memories of growing up in Erina, NSW! I miss home. 🙁 Thank you for this post – it’s so funny and it’s true for more families than just your own 🙂

  5. This just HAS to be a universal experience…. because my mum did something very similar.

    Cut to the VIVO, in lovely, leafy Arnhem, The Netherlands….

    Picture The Supreme Being making her way through the shop at a rate of .005km/hr because of interminable gaggling with other geese – (invariable comment after a minimum of thirty minutes of riotous assembly: “I never liked that woman…”), while in the background her shy 12-year-old daughter (tastefully dressed in beige loden coat with hood – up) waits with dread and certainty for the moment when she’d be summonsed forward to demonstrate growing t1tties or dental metalworks or maybe just to be offered in marriage.

    And STILL I turned into the loving, caring, balanced person that I am…..

  6. This just HAS to be a universal experience…. because my mum did something very similar.

    Cut to the VIVO, in lovely, leafy Arnhem, The Netherlands….

    Picture The Supreme Being making her way through the shop at a rate of .005km/hr because of interminable gaggling with other geese – (invariable comment after a minimum of thirty minutes of riotous assembly: “I never liked that woman…”), while in the background her shy 13-year-old daughter (tastefully dressed in beige loden coat with hood – up) waits with dread and certainty for the moment when she’d be summonsed forward to demonstrate growing t1tties or dental metalworks or maybe just to be offered in marriage.

    Weekly torture. And STILL I turned into the loving, caring, balanced person that I am…..

  7. Substitute the Woolies for Safeway and I could have written this story!! I laughed all the way through it.

    I hate going back to my home town now. I slink around behind dark sunglasses in case anyone recognises me. I spent two-and-a-half years working as a journo on the local rag, so if I run into anyone now they either want to kill me or hug me. It’s unbearably frightening!

  8. Right enough of this.

    Despite the evidence to the contrary (a few thousand miles, different countries, name changes, and such like) it’s obvious that we had the same mother.

    Memories of eating round the moldy bit of the cheese, or grating it because you couldn’t actually cut it. Memories of hearing how well I was doing when I was standing RIGHT THERE, and being fawned over having grown SO TALL.

    And that was just last week…

  9. Good one Shauny. You are going to be a very rich woman one day, and support Gareth in the lavish lifestyle to which he´d like to grow accustomed, because EVERYONE is going to buy your books when they get published!!!!!

    This is a subtle hint…. 🙂

  10. Goodness, your townspeople were blunt! “Have you got a man yet?” Wow.

    The rest of it, however, sounds rather familiar. My mama’s a teacher too, so old students and colleagues still spring out from behind displays of baked beans every time she goes to Tesco.

    Mmm, that feeling of shame as you try to make your current existence sound not quite so shabby, in the presence of people who are probably revelling in schadenfreude now that they can see you clearly haven’t yet set the world on fire… This still happens to me rather a lot.

  11. OH MY GOD! I just surrrprisingly stumbled across your website (no- not via a “pu55y” search on a search engine!!) via boudist’s blog. You are sooooo funny. Imust say I was astonished to hear that people felt the need to rubbish your adventures!! If this is the case then they should just all fry in their own bodily excrement!
    Thank you for enlightening my day and reminding me of home (Melbourne) and the good old days and funnies-hahaha!
    I love your work 🙂

  12. Where I come from you’d get asked
    ‘any word of a big day?’ to which lucky old you could now blissfully answer by saying
    ‘It’s already happened.’

  13. Hee hee, i like the Rhiannon based shenannigans there.

    Shauna, you might like this..hey you might not.

    A friend of mine in Melbourne used to go into the 24 hour Coles supermarket in the dead of night, where he and his girl would get to the check out with items that individually are quite ordinary, it’s only in concert that they become more macabre.

    Along the coneyor belt would come

    Rubber gloves

    baby oil

    Butter Nut pumpkin

    packet of condoms

    Apple corer

    diposable camera.

    Once everything had been rung up to mounting unease on the part of the checkout chick they’d claim to have forgotten their wallets and promised to return in a minute, leaving the poor lassie with a perverts selection box sitting next to the register for the rest of the night.

  14. This story certainly resonated, having also grown up in a smaller place and having spent countless hours growing dizzy from hunger, squabbling with my sister and clutching that half-filled trolley for dear life while my teacher mother ‘ran into’ at least 17 friends she hadn’t seen for 20 years.

  15. Once again, an entry to which there is only one response; laughing, out loud. Thanks Shauny.

    With my mother still teaching, I guess that why Dad does the shopping every weekend?

    I like Rhiannon’s style, priceless.

  16. I havn’t laughed that loud in a long time! I had to read the end again and again just for fun! You’re great! ~j

  17. tis good to see this is something that mum’s do all over the world!

    pol, i shudder to think what they’d do with the apple corer… eek!

  18. The MotherShip is everyone’s mother, only more so. That’d be part of why the MotherShip entries are so popular, Shaunster.

    That and your inimitable writing style, o’ course…

  19. Ahh, Woolies – ours was the same. I remember when it opened, I was in Year 10 and it was a big social event! Everyone who was anyone was there…

    We all got jobs there of course, us checkout chicks thought that we were the Coolest, heh.

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