Cheese Straws and Lost Men

How could I have been so dumb? Going to the grocery store on the day before Thanksgiving is definitely not an activity willingly chosen by the sane. So, now we know the state of my mind. A suicide mission, if there ever was one.

At least I went early–and in my own defense, I must say it was an impulse stop, as I was trying to maximize my trip through town as I was off to buy hay for Morgan. (Morgan’s my horse, for those who haven’t met him.) What I wanted to get was not crucial for The Big Food Fest that tomorrow has become, but the object of my mission was something I could take as a hostess gift to the dinner I’ll be attending, but not cooking.

So, there I was…at Safeway on the morning before Thanksgiving. The place was pretty mobbed, and not with the usual suspects of women, kids, and teenagers from the nearby high school. It was mostly full of men…men?? Yes, men. Lost Men.

Some looked bewildered, some looked grumpy, and all looked lost, as they charged up and down the aisles in search of maraschino cherries, cranberry sauce, stuffing mix, and spinach dip. Not living up to the male reputation of never stopping to ask, these guys were grabbing anyone who walked by to get directions through this usually no-man’s land of a maze. I bet it was the first time this almost-ended year that most of them had set foot inside a store that provides most of what they need to survive–food. I also bet that their wives had sent them off on this errand just to get the guys out of the house and out of their hair–knowing that sending them to the grocery store would keep them gone for hours.

Even though I’m in this very store at least three times a week, there I was in the question line, along with all the Lost Men. What I couldn’t find was something that had made a sudden first-time appearance in this store just last week–cheese straws. Southerners know what these are–for the rest, think of shortbread with cheese baked in, instead of sugar. I’d never heard of them until I lived in Atlanta, and I’ve been addicted ever since. Here in California, however, I’ve been an addict without a source–until last week; and then, there they were…appearing as mysteriously and unexpectedly as those ruby slippers that so shocked Dorothy when they turned up on her feet.

Cheese straws in California?? Do Californians even know what they are? I was about to find out.

After returning to the very spot in the store where I had encountered them last week, and seeing that they were no longer there, I was beginning to suspect I’d been hallucinating…but wait, no that couldn’t be. I still have the bag of them I’d bought, so had it been a hallucination, it had come with tangible benefits–and hallucinations rarely do that.

So I got in line with the Lost Men to ask one of the beleaguered Safeway checkers, turned talking store directories, where the cheese straws had been stashed. One of the Lost Men, one of the grumpy sorts, pushed his way ahead of me in line–as if I were wearing Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak–to get his directions to the maraschino cherries. I decided not to add to his obvious unhappiness at being there on such an annoying and seemingly impossible mission, and so I didn’t assert myself by claiming my rightful place ahead of him.

When I got my belated turn to ask directions to the cheese straws, I realized I might as well have asked for fairy dust–the checker guy had no idea what I was talking about…and neither did the checker next to him or the one next to her. He did, however, volunteer to lead me to the bowels of the store in search of the on-duty manager.

Once found, the manager did actually know what cheese straws were–although she seemed less than thrilled with their arrival in her already crowded store. She assured me, with thinly veiled displeasuere at being burdened with them, that they were only a seasonal item. She led me and the checker guy on a trek to the farthest reaches of the store, to the well hidden corner to which the poor cheese straws had been banished. As far from their original location in the store as they could possibly be, and as buried as they now are, they’ll still be there next year at this time since they’ll never have been noticed (or recognized) by either shoppers or store personnel.

On the way to the hidden corner, we encountered legions of Lost Men, bearing the wild eyed looks of agitated lost dogs, each one grabbing at our leader (the manager) or my companion (the checker guy) to throw at them the name of whatever it was they had been sent to retrieve. Cranberries, naturally, in all their possible forms (fresh, sauced, jellied, whole but in a can…). Balsamic vinegar. Baking powder. A certain brand and kind of butter. Cooking spray. Sour cream. Leeks. Hardly surprisingly, not one of them was on the hunt for cheese straws.

But, that’s what I was there to buy, and once I’d found them, I loaded up, both for hostess gifting and for me. And now that I have the name of the company making them—The Mississippi Cheese Straw Factory (I just knew it had to be Southern), I’ll never have to rely on the whims of Safeway to stock them, or will i ever have to go without them, again. I am thankful for that, minor detail that it is, as well as for so much, much more.

Happy Thanksgiving!

(I do hope all of those Lost Men found their ways home with what they had been sent to fetch too.)

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