Updated: May 25
Dang. I owe Mr. John King an apology.
As a kid, I’d pop into the family-owned King’s Grocery Store in Rockingham every time I had some change and buy packs of Now & Laters or 50 cents worth of three-for-a-penny cookies.
In retrospect, I imagine he must’ve hated seeing me come, since it takes a loooong time to count out 150 chokes. (That’s the name we gave them because they were so dry that you needed a soda or milk to wash them down.)
While he was counting them out, though, we’d sometimes have intriguing discussions. In addition to running his family’s store, Mr. King was the deacon at Providence Baptist Church who, every Sunday, guided the gospel choir in a mournful hymn.
I never understood a word they sung, but Lord, did the sound soothe the soul.
Oh yeah, back to that apology I owe Mr. King. More than once while counting out cookies, he’d proclaim “One day, Saunders, they’re gonna have armed guards protecting the grocery stores just like they do the banks.”
I suspect he may have been something of an end-of-timer, because he was foreseeing a time when crops withered in the fields, food sources disappeared and a panicked populace stormed the Winn Dixie, A&P and Piggly Wiggly and started snatching cans of potted meat and Vienna sausages off the shelves without paying.
Armed guards in grocery stores?
What a ridiculous notion, right?
That's what I thought at the time. I now smile ruefully every single time I walk into my neighborhood grocery store and see the strapped guards warily keeping watch over the maters, taters and Cap’n Crunch.
So, I’m sorry I doubted you, Mr. King, and if anything, you might’ve understated the problems we’d face.
After the grocery store massacres in Buffalo and in other places in recent months and years, many Americans may feel the need to arm themselves just to do this most fundamental family function.
Grocery stores and churches, both places that provide sustenance – one physical, the other spiritual - have apparently become the ultimate “soft target” for irrationally angry domestic terrorists: a day after the 18-year-old white man in New York allegedly murdered Black people shopping for food, a hate-consumed, politically motivated Chinese man allegedly went into a church in California and shot six people of Taiwanese descent seeking spiritual nourishment. One died.
What's a "softer" target than a grocery store or a church, you ask?
Possibly an elementary school. Before we can process the two above-mentioned national tragedies, another gunman - another heavily armed 18-year-old gunman - went into an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas May 24, 2022 and killed at least 18 children and two adults.
Of course, the Texas Attorney General had a ready solution to the carnage: arm the teachers.
If you’re not heartsick over what is happening in this country and why, might I suggest a checkup from the neck up?
Me? For weeks now I’ve been sighing heavily and mainlining directly into my veins Stevie Wonder’s Heaven Help Us All.
Just because my eyes aren't crying over what's happening in heavily Armed-merica doesn't mean my heart isn't.
An equally distraught friend called and mentioned that seemingly all of the victims at Tops grocery store were “exemplary” citizens engaged in community betterment: some of them were actually shopping for others.
The gunman had bought into the myth mainstreamed by some politicians and TV provocateurs and underwritten by major advertisers that a Jewish plot is afoot for minorities to replace whites.
If that is true – pssst, it isn’t! – by my calculations it’ll take about 750 more years at the current rate.
Grocery stores have always been more than just food emporiums where you can get balsamic vinegar, Corn Flakes and cracklins for your corn bread. They are also meeting places where you see people you've not seen since the last time you were there.
They were never, though, meant to be places where you would be seen for the last time.
From childhood, one of my absolute favorite memories is of begging my aunt who raised me to take me with her to the A&P every Saturday morning. Buying enough food for nine was bound to take a couple of hours.
I’d plead to go with her and she’d finally relent, but with the meaningless stipulation “Don’t ask me to buy nothing that’s not on this list.”
I knew she didn’t mean it, and she knew I knew she didn’t mean it, because a couple of honey buns and an extra box of Sugar Smacks always ended up in the basket.
Now, though, when parents deny their children the bonding experience of accompanying them to the grocery store, it won’t be for fear of being pestered for the latest sugar-bombed cereal with a neat prize in it.
It may be because they fear their children will end up shot down on aisle five.