I made my first post-holiday trip to the grocery store a few days ago, a necessity since we were living on Christmas cookie crumbs and smoked turkey from the bird delivered to husband’s office weeks ago. From Thanksgiving to Christmas I’d shopped in a hurry for things like maraschino cherries and artichoke-spinach dip, navigating a flat-bed and four teenagers who came along to make sure I bought banned items like sugar cereal and pop-tarts in adequate supply for Cousin Week.
First thing I noticed in my post-holiday shopping were the wide open spaces. Gone were the mountains of candied fruit bits, condensed milk, and brown sugar draped with tinsel garlands. Santa displays no longer obscured the dairy aisle and frantic shoppers casing the grocery store for a thoughtful gift had moved on to new emergencies. I enjoyed the calm and felt uplifted, (except for the valentine hearts, but let’s not go there).
Walking right past last month’s false friend–the heavy whipping cream–I drove my cart to the produce section where I hugged the romaine. The bananas said, “Where the heck have you been?” My old friends were still there: the grape tomatoes, the pre-washed vegetable medley, and carrots. Dear, sweet, baby carrots. “I survived the holidays,” I said.
And then I remembered. But I was afraid to look.
I turned slowly, and gazed over the heaps of grapefruit and clementines, fearful of what I wouldn’t find. The apples sat in plain view: red, green, and golden delicious. But they looked smaller than they’d been in the fullness of autumn, in the days before holiday chaos and cocktail party-thinking led me down the path of caloric ruin. I parked my cart and approached my old friends, seeking the beautiful apple that had spent every lunch at my desk, satisfying both sweet and crunchy cravings while I contemplated word choices. If my apple was gone, I would survive the seasonal absence, but I wasn’t ready to let go yet. I hadn’t said goodbye. The large sign proclaiming its name was missing and I didn’t immediately recognize it among the varieties whose tiny labels said, Fuji, Jonagold, and Macintosh. I lectured myself on the folly of sucking up to sour cream in the crush of the holidays, and my grandmother’s voice said, see how you are? And then I found it. The most beautiful name in apples: Honeycrisp. I tore off a plastic bag and gathered as many as I could eat in a week, grateful to have more time with my lunch buddy before the constraints of its season forced its absence from my life. “The holidays are over, little apples,” I said. “Let’s go home and write a novel.”