"How did you all fit in there?" he asked as we trailed into the store after Mom.
"With a shoehorn," Mom laughed, as she pulled a shopping cart from the rack. "They won't get in the way. They're just going to yell out the time every few minutes so I can keep on schedule."
And then an act of kindness occurred, altering the outcome of the day for the Ryan family. Mr. Streeter looked at us and looked again at the rule sheet. He placed his thumb over the line specifying that the shopper couldn't have help. He turned to two of the store clerks, Pauline and Hazel, who had come in early to watch Mom's ten minutes of fame. Both in their sixties, the two women were rooting for her as much as any of us kids were. They also had a better understanding of the store's layout than Mom did, Mr. Streeter knew, and they wore industrial-strength shoes that had run up and down these aisles many times before. "I'm going to turn my back," he told them. "Any help you give Mrs. Ryan in filling the cart won't be seen by me." Everyone's eyes lit up.
Mom tested the cart by rolling it back and forth a few times, making sure she didn't have to fumble around the store on defective wheels. Harvey adjusted his bow tie and held up a stopwatch. Mom's hands gripped the cart handle. She bent forward slightly, standing like an Olympic sprinter waiting for the starting gun.
"Go!" yelled Harvey as he clicked the watch on.
Down the aisle they all flew, Hazel and Pauline following Mom in a trot toward the meat department, where Bob pointed out the prepackaged sheets of beef ribs and bacon -- even extra-long rolls of salami -- to use in supporting the sides. Pauline and Hazel held the slabs of meat up in the cart and Mom filled in the center, hauling huge beef and pork roasts, platter-sized steaks, and six-packs of filet mignon out of the case and tossing them into the cart.
"Seven minutes to go!" called Rog from the front of the store.
"I think we should split up," said Mom, her voice a few octaves higher than usual. "I'll take the frozen food aisle. You two hit the European food section."
"What do you want?" Hazel asked, already running toward aisle eight on the heels of Pauline.
"Exotic things!" Mom said. "Expensive things! The good stuff! But only one of each!"
At the front of the store, Bub lifted Betsy up onto his shoulders. "Six minutes, Mommy!" she shouted.
Mom shot through the frozen food aisle like a missile, grabbing game hens and emptying the seafood section of lobster thermidor, crab claws, filet of sole, salmon steaks, halibut, everything but fish sticks. "Absolutely no fish sticks!" yelled Mom, as Pauline and Hazel careened around the corner, arms filled with cans of pâté, mushrooms, caviar, artichoke hearts, blanched asparagus, hollandaise sauce, and who knows what else.
"Three minutes!" shouted Bruce.
Mom wrestled with several quarts of gourmet ice cream. Pauline and Hazel loaded up on frozen broccoli in cheese sauce, lasagna with truffles, bourbon-laced ladyfingers, and French chocolate sauce.
At the one-minute mark, Mike yelled from the front of the store. "Candy in aisle five!" And a barrage of Toblerone chocolates, jars of roasted pumpkin seeds, and several six-, eight-, and twelve-packs of Mounds and Almond Joy candy bars landed atop the piles of meat, frozen food, and canned goods already in the cart.
In the final seconds, as Pauline and Hazel jammed the bottom rack with fresh pineapples and coconuts, Mom tried and failed to balance two family-sized bags of potato chips on the pyramid of cans that was now taller than the meat walls.
"Hurry, Mom!" Barb screamed, as Mom and the cart rocketed out of the produce section on the way to the checkout stand. Giving up trying to weigh the bags of chips down with cans of Finnish sardines as she ran, she grabbed a large candy cane from a Christmas display on her way by and stabbed it through the heart of the bags into a box of frozen bonbons below.
Copyright © 2001 by Terry Ryan. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of the publisher, Simon & Schuster.
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