|The connection to past and present, lit up in neon.|
So when I moved into the American Gothic House and discovered there is an Aldi in Ottumwa, 15 miles away, I was thrilled. Until I walked in the door.
|Aldi: Same store, different country.|
|Is this heaven? No, it's European chocolate at Aldi. In Iowa.|
I stood there in that first aisle, tears streaming down my face. What a strange site I must have been to the other Ottumwa shoppers. Why is this girl crying about chocolate? Or is she crying over the egg noodles?
I made it to the check out where I wished I could tell the clerk – or anyone in the store who would listen -- my story. My story about how I had shopped at Aldi in Germany and how shopping here was a powerful connection between my past and present. About how I was born here in Ottumwa, had lived all over the world, and now, as if by some divine intervention, I’m back. Would this clerk know that Aldi’s first U.S. store was right here in Southeast Iowa? Would she even care? Would she or any of the other shoppers appreciate the ability to buy these wonderful European goods here in rural America?
As the clerk pulled my purchases off her conveyor belt, I wanted – needed -- to tell someone how Marcus taught me that sauerkraut is “full of vitamins,” how he pronounced “vitamins” the British way, with a soft “i,” and how he could make something as mouth-puckering as sauerkraut sound delicious, sexy. But gushing my jumble of thoughts to her would have only confused her and embarrassed me further, so I left as quickly as I could (with my Belgian chocolate and German sauerkraut) and drove home.
|Aldi is known for its extra long conveyor belts. In Germany you're required to lay your bottles down...or else! Also, no bagging clerks here. And you have to bring your own bags. It's the European way -- and I like it.|
Like everything associated with grief, there is a conditioning process. The first anything is hardest – first Thanksgiving (um, last year…), first anniversary (yeah, that too was brutal…), first birthday, first time driving past the hospital where he was pronounced dead. But you get used to things. You adapt. You survive. And as long as I am still alive I have to eat. Therefore I have to shop for groceries (and, of course, pie supplies.) And thus I returned to Aldi.
|A quirky Aldi thing: you need a quarter to release the locked shopping carts. (In Germany it's a Euro coin.) You get it back when you return your cart. This way, no need to hire parking lot help and no driving into stray carts!|
|You cannot get apples cheaper than this unless you grow them on your own trees!|
Aldi’s seasonal specials now include Christmas cookies and candies. The same ones I used to buy in Germany. The soft gingerbread cookies called Lebkuchen. The chewy cinnamon stars called Zimtstern. The almond paste-filled chocolates called Lübeker Marzipan. Marcus and I had traveled one summer to the Northern Germany town of Lübeck where these very chocolates are made. I could picture the old brick buildings there and the ships moored in this harbor town. I could also see the wooden advent calendar in which Marcus’ mother had stuffed each day’s box with these same Lübeker Marzipan chocolates. Sigh.
I picked up a package of the cinnamon stars and with it came a flash of vivid memory. Just the thought of eating one of these bite-sized hazelnut biscuits put me right back in the living room of our tiny hilltop apartment with the sweeping view of Stuttgart’s juxtaposed picturesque vineyards butting up against the industrial Mercedes-Benz factories. I could see the steam pumping out of the power plant across the river and the Mercedes-Benz lit star logo spinning on the tower of the train station. I could feel the pang of looking at Marcus' office further on, wishing he would get home from work soon. I was so transported I forgot I was in Iowa. I pushed the tears away and, instead of crying, I stood there in Aisle #3 and opened the bag of cookies. I popped a little frosted star in my mouth. I could not only see Germany, I could taste it. I could taste Marcus.
|I ate a lot of these Lebkuchen in Germany. And now I can eat them in Iowa. Note: Trader Joe's carries these too during the holiday season.|