"The list would have been shorter," said Dick, "if they'd listed the things you can have."
"It's still okay," Bub said. "Everything comes in lots of brands and sizes."
"Besides," said Lea Anne, who was home from nursing school for the weekend, "none of the meat packages will weigh exactly the same, so you can at least start there."
"One last thing," Mom said. "I have to fill the cart by myself. No one can help me."
"We don't get to go along?" moaned Barb, expressing the sagging disappointment we all felt. I wasn't the only one with visions of being let loose for a few minutes in aisles filled with potato chips, jelly beans, cupcakes, and ice cream.
"You can come," said Mom, "but you'll have to stay back with the store clerks and the Seabrook representative. What you can help me with is planning how to do it."
We decided that the first step would be mapping out the store, aisle by aisle, so Mom could memorize every inch of the place. The Big Chief Supermarket was huge, about half a football field long. Dad had to join in this time -- he was the only one in the family who could drive -- taking several of us along to scout it out.
Anybody else in Mom's position might have gone after the usual milk and bread and bologna and ketchup. Not Mom. "Think big," she said. "If I'm going to get a cartload of free food, I'm not going to waste cart space or time going after on-sale chicken parts and fish sticks." (We ate fish sticks almost every Friday night for supper.) "We can ignore the five-pound bags of sugar and gallons of milk, too."
"The Mars bars are on aisle five," said Mike.
"I want you kids to taste chateaubriand, New York steak, lobster, and anything else you've never tried before. Heck, I want to try them too.
"I'll have to grab a token amount of Seabrook's frozen food first," Mom added, ever aware of pleasing the contest sponsors. "But after that I'm heading for the meat department."
The only problem was the shopping cart itself. It looked no bigger than the inside of a large suitcase. Even the bottom rack seemed paltry, barely big enough for a ten-pound sack of potatoes. While we stood over the meat cases at the back of the store, the butcher, Bob Wallen, came out to say hello. Everyone in Defiance, including Bob, had already heard about Mom's upcoming shopping spree.
"If there's any special cut of meat you're interested in, Evelyn," he said, "tell me now, and I'll have it ready ahead of time."
"I'm half afraid I won't have room for everything I want," she said. "The cart is so shallow."
Bob's blue eyes lit up. He came out from around the counter and measured the sides with his knife-scarred hands. "Hey, we can fix that," he said. "I can cut some flat slabs of beef and extra-long sides of bacon. See, you can stand them on end all around the inside edge and make the sides taller."
Now Mom's eyes lit up. "That would double the cart's capacity," she said. "Bob, you're going straight to heaven!"
"This is no ordinary shopping spree, Evelyn," Bob said, a huge grin on his round face. "This is a treasure hunt! You won't have to come back to my counter for a long, long time."
When the day of the shopping spree finally arrived, we were ready. Mom knew exactly what she wanted and where it was in the store. Even so, she was slightly nervous. In the car on the way there, she said, "I wish I had twenty minutes instead of ten. I wish all of you could help me. I wish I had won a station wagon instead of a shopping spree." Then she laughed and said, "Who am I kidding? This is going to be fun."
The shopping spree was scheduled to take place before the store opened for business. Mom had the option of doing it after business hours, but by that time of night Dad would have been too drunk to drive her to the store and too argumentative to be out in public. As our old Chevy pulled into the nearly empty lot on the appointed morning, we could see the store manager, Harvey Ward, the Seabrook executive, who I will call Miles Streeter, and a few clerks waiting just inside the glass door for Mom's arrival. She stepped out of the front passenger seat and into the store, and everybody applauded. Mr. Streeter watched the stream of kids pouring out of the car like clowns out of a Volkswagen.
Copyright © 2001 by Terry Ryan. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of the publisher, Simon & Schuster.
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