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Senior citizen hours at Houston grocery stores offer a sense of peace during coronavirus threat

There was no panic on aisle five.

No frenzy in the freezer section.

Just a sense of peace near the produce, a state of calm amidst the canned fruit.

My friend and I, both senior citizens, were taking advantage of the early senior citizen shopping hours offered by a Houston-area grocery store during these trying days of the coronavirus threat. We were at the doors when they opened (7 a.m. to 8 a.m., Wednesdays only, for senior citizens only, ages 65-plus). Contrary to popular belief, not all senior citizens wake early. We usually are out of bed by 8:30 a.m. most mornings. But today we had set our alarms, quickly grabbed some coffee and set out on this new reality, this new adventure of obtaining our needed sustenance in advance of the madding crowds.

We had been told to bring an ID showing proof of age. Driver’s licenses in hand, we entered the store, greeted by three employees, two smiling and one in a face mask. I’m still wondering if I should be offended or appreciative that the ladies at the door waved away my effort to show my credentials. (I’m 69 and must undoubtedly look 65-plus — no question of age for me.)

However, the three employees at the door were genuine and kind in their greetings, and we thanked them for also rising early to give us senior citizens this opportunity.

Most of our fellow shoppers were like us, comfortably dressed and generally cautious of a 3-6 foot distance from any people. We did pass a few shoppers clad in masks or latex gloves, looking a bit suspiciously at anyone who got too close for comfort. One quite elderly masked lady tried to pose a question to me in the freezer section…….was she asking about “peas” or making a request with a “please”? After apologetically saying twice that I didn’t understand, she removed her mask and said, “Peas. PEAS! Do you know where the peas are located?” After directing her, she did offer a distinct “thank you” before replacing the mask.

We’re all a bit tense and irritable these days…..

We were near the meat section when a loud sneeze reverberated nearby. Our heads, along with those of the few shoppers in our vicinity, snapped to attention. Who was it? Where did it come from? Did the culprit sneeze appropriately into the crook of the arm or were the vaporous drops of germs headed, even now as we froze in position, toward our aging vulnerable bodies? We saw the suspect near our end of aisle seven and were all pleased to see she had sneezed appropriately, elbow still bent in accepted position. There were audible sighs of relief as shoppers glanced at each other with some embarrassment and a lot of reassurance.

“We’re all just a little edgy these days,” I offered to no one in particular, all of us in general.

As we later stood before the packaged lunch meat section, my friend observed, “You rarely stop and consider foods with preservatives.” I acknowledged this but considered the suggestion of a mental health expert on TV just the other day who had suggested eating comfort foods during these stressful, chaotic times.

Bologna,” I proudly stated. “I want to eat a bologna sandwich with white bread and lots of mayo!”

Shocked, my friend wanted to make sure he heard me correctly: “Bologna? And white bread? But we don’t eat anything but 100 percent wheat bread, brown bread…..” Before he could adjust his hearing aids, I repeated my new dietary preference, with an explanation: “That’s what I remember eating almost every Sunday evening when I was a kid. We always had big Sunday noon meals after church, so we ate lighter in the evenings – either a bowl of cold cereal or a sandwich. I want that sandwich I haven’t eaten in 60-plus years! I’m suddenly craving it!”

Bologna and white bread balancing at the top of our loaded grocery cart, we made our way to checkout, passing through the paper goods aisle along the way.

There was no turmoil at the toilet paper shelves — very few packages available but no one killing each other to snatch up the remnants. We were still well-stocked at home, so no worries there.

I’m a music freak. If there is music playing anywhere (even at 7:00 a.m. in a grocery store), I not only hear and enjoy it — I sing along. “Wow,” I tell my friend as we exited the store, “they’re even playing music from the 60s and 70s! You think they always play that genre, or are they specifically playing it for those old enough to actually enjoy these songs?”

He wasn’t sure. “What song is that playing now?” he asked.

Oh, I knew this one well:

“Nothing’s gonna change my world

Nothing’s gonna change my world…..”

“It’s the Beatles,” I provide. “Across the Universe.”

But to myself I reflected: everything is changing. Our world is changing all the time…..

Klopsteck is a writer living in East Bernard, Texas but shops Houston stores frequently while visiting her daughter.