The Invisible America

When speaking of America, people instantly have visions of thriving cities, apple pie, baseball, and loud yanks. Or perhaps they will think of the natural beauty of the grand canyon, or the architectural skill revealed in the golden gate bridge. Those who do not live within America (and some who do) can only begin to imagine the wealth of terrain, architecture, culture and societal structure that begins on the east coast and refuses to stop even at the west. (Thanks Hawaii)

That’s not what I see at all. The places that are truly America to me, don’t exist to most people. I live in a land that many Americans don’t even realize is a proper state. Within that state there is a city on the edge of a mountain. Let’s just say, that there is nothing of interest in that city. The heart of my America is found in a string of tiny towns running along the east of that place.

It would be easy enough to pass through our town in less than ten minutes. Unless you get stuck behind a beet truck and hit all the red lights. You might as well get comfortable if that happens. (Ok ok, it’s really not that bad…) But I could care less about the highway. I want to tell you about the town itself.

And I will. Later. One beautiful place at a time. If I feel a spurt of literary brilliance (or if my fellow citizens don’t burn my paper and pen by the time I’m done) I will even summarize it for you.

For now, lets talk about one thing that every proper town has in common. The grocery store. It’s a necessary aspect of life that goes unnoticed….until it’s taken away. America is blessed with plenty, which means we rarely stop to think about the exotic foods we can get anywhere. (I can guarantee that you aren’t growing any Bananas this far north.) Without our mundane little grocery stores, what would our towns look like? (Or taste like. No mexican vanilla. No costa rican coffee…..)

Let me tell you this. Chain stores are nothing compared to local grocers. Until I moved here a few years ago, I didn’t realize that chatting in line was an acceptable part of society. Addressing the cashier by name is a natural part of conversing with them. Complete strangers will strike up a conversation if the line is long or the store is especially busy. I’ve found myself spending an hour in the store when I meant to walk in for a couple of items because I ran into a friend.

Actually, I never walk into the store without recognizing someone. It’s awesome. If a display falls over and scatters stuff all over the floor, people who don’t even work at the store will help pick it up. Respect is a given, but in a small town grocery store people go above and beyond to treat one another well. When a mother comes in with a bunch of little kids people usually invite her to move to the front of the line.

I’ve had many instances of chastisement-not because anyone said anything-but because I was one of the least well mannered people in the store. (Coming from a pastor’s kid who has been trained up in manners since childhood, that’s really not an easy statement to make.) It’s the kind of society that people only see in movies usually.

Does it look like that every single day? Nah. We’re a town full of sinners. But this is the only place I’ve lived in where looking to other people’s interests above your own is a cultural norm. (Except for when pricing peanut butter. Seriously guys, I hate going to Walmart. You like it when I buy your stuff. Make peanut butter cheaper. Please.)

A couple of days ago I enjoyed another phenomena. I was the only customer in the entire grocery store. It was fantastic! I still took forever, because I can never seem to find what I want. (It would help if I remembered what I wanted for ten minutes straight.) And even though I was the only one there, people greeted me with a smile and made sure that they were available to assist me. Also, they asked why I wasn’t in school. And when I said “I’m homeschooled” they didn’t freak out like I was an alien. A polite conversation began about the pros and cons of homeschooling and they happily told me to enjoy my day. (Side note: It’s really hard to play hooky as a homeschooler…buying groceries for your family provides a pleasant respite from school.)

So now you know. Local grocers have the same products that every other store does. (Even if the peanut butter is spendier.)  The difference is the culture within them. (No, I’m not talking about yogurt.) Grocery stores may be almost invisible, but the people who work within them are a blessing to us all. Regardless of whether you shop local or in a chain store, treat the people who work there with respect. Without them, you wouldn’t ever be able to buy peanut butter. Or icecream. Or tortillas…a world without tortillas is a bad world. Society always has room for improvement. The easiest way to start, is with the places you go to the most.

America isn’t about the skyscrapers, the greasy food, the sports crazies. Sure, it wouldn’t be the same without them, but its core lies in the little things. The people you see every day will influence who you are. The way you treat them will change your environment. American pie is pretty dang great. Without the people to form it, you’ve just got a scattered mess of buildings and bragging rights. (Oh yea, people made those too.) So how about we go back to our origin. The individual. Not you. The one next to you. And the one by him. The girl behind the counter and the guy stacking up racks of fizzysodapopcoke. (Been too many places, couldn’t pick a word. Folks around here just call it pop.) They might be invisible to the outside, but they are what form America.

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