Mom’s Suburban Supermarket Adventures

1950s housewife grocery shopping shopping cart

One day while flipping through a 3 year old, dog-eared magazine while waiting for her hair to dry at the Glam-A- Rama Beauty Parlor, my mid-century Mom happened upon an article in the May 1955 issue of Better Living Magazine that caught her eye.

Squirming uneasily in turquoise, hydraulic chair, she did a double take when she recognized the name of the author of the piece as a former college classmate of hers. For just a fleeting moment, a glimpse of envy and regret flashed across my self described, self-fulfilled, self–effacing  Mom’s face.

The article entitled The Lady is Queen of the Supermarket, was a gushing ode to the dazzling world of mid-century supermarkets and the fortunate housewives who frequented them.

illustration supermarket shopping A&P 1950s

“The supermarket is a symbol of Americas attainment of a high standard of living through democracy and is looked upon as one of the great institutions of the world.” began the upbeat article.

“The supermarket is the woman’s store”

 “Self service is more than just a slick way of selling groceries to the woman customer it makes marketing day an adventure.

Mom laughed out loud. I looked up in curiosity from my coloring book as she began reading the article out loud to no one in particular.

“To the woman of today the grocery store is not a challenge but a relaxing place to spend an hour”. Gosh, why go to a spa when you could just as easily melt those tensions away by pushing a shopping cart down the aisle of a supermarket.

 “Every week her supermarket features a new product just on the market ; a dehydrated potato preparation, perhaps a new kind of processed cheez. The slogan of the Supermarket Institute is ‘that there may be more for all. Together we’re learning new tricks in the oldest art in the world-how to keep a woman happy and wanted.’

 New Freedoms

shopping supermarket  housewife 1950s

“By making the housewife queen for the hour she buys she does a better job of selling herself than a dozen eager clerks. She likes the privilege of pulling a can off a shelf”.

I guess that privilege comes right after our right to vote, and she doesn’t even need an amendment to the Constitution for that privilege.

“Yes, the woman of today is self-reliant as never before, sweeping aside old barriers winning new freedom. And when she shops for food she wants to be free to choose for herself!

Mom explained to me that when she was growing up, her mother shopped at a corner grocery store, where you were fenced off from the shelves by counters. Not only did you have to wait for an available clerk to help you with your order, but you had to know exactly what you wanted from a carefully prepared list. So much of the merchandise was out of the customers reach, that impulse buying was limited. Finally the grocer, using a long pole to reach the floor to ceiling shelves, retrieved your item.

1950s housewife supermarket shopping packaged meats

Modern American supermarket were more democratic than old-fashioned grocery stores according to the article, because, for example, self-service meat counters allowed the customers to choose the cut they wanted rather than submit themselves to the whim and favoritism of an autocratic butcher, which now reeked of Communism.

Returning to the article she continued:

“Her husband thinks she’s a wizard with the food budget, and she enjoys serving him high quality meals with little effort or preparation.”

 “She is gratefully aware that all the dazzling carefully arrayed displays are carefully planned to assist her in making a suitable choice. “We always sell just what the customer wants to buy not what we want to sell, a supermarket chain store operator said not long ago.”

shopping supermarket housewives1950s

 “The supermarket is a cornerstone of the American woman’s economic existence as well as her home life. She enjoys mingling with her friends in the store and when she leaves the check out counter she has a feeling of accomplishment, not just the sense of having a dreary routine chore.”

 “She should have for she has put most of her imaginative faculties to work in the hour she spent doing the weeks shopping. She has made 40 or 50 decisions one way or another as to the purchases; she has envisaged certain products as they will appear when served hot at the table.

 She’s restrained only by family budget and that too makes a game of finding the best values to be had.

 No wonder shopping continues to be a constant adventure for her.

An adventure! Somehow this seemed far removed from the adventures Mom had once considered for herself as a girl.

The Big Scoop

vintage illustration  Brenda Starr comic book

(L) Vintage Illustration 1948 by Harry Fredman Women’s Home Companion (R) Vintage Brenda Starr Comic Book 1940s

My mother Betty had once dreamed of being like the heroines she read about in the 1940s magazines- adventurous, career gals with spirit and determination. Most of all, she wanted to be a star reporter for a big city daily. As editor of her school newspaper, she had a good nose for a good story and a keen intuition when people weren’t telling the truth.

She couldn’t wait to get into the newspaper game, unearthing scoops, covering a hot breaking story. But no sob sister stories for her- she didn’t want to get stuck covering the usual girl beat of weddings and social clubs.

No sir, Betty fancied herself more as a glamorous foreign correspondent type- a Brenda Starr kind of reporter. Exotic adventurous, steamy romances- the works!

Brenda Starr was a career gal who was a smart, glamorous, and a headstrong star reporter for the Metropolitan Daily The Flash. She traveled the world solving mysteries, unearthing scoops and stealing the heart of almost every man she meets. When she was not globetrotting in search of sensational stories she was behind a desk stubborn, strong-willed, sassy hard-working and competitive.

Brenda Starr comic strip

But that kind of life wasn’t just in the funnies.

Betty could  imagine herself a foreign correspondent like Martha Gelhorn who covered the Spanish Civil War right on the front lines, Married to the dashing Ernest Hemingway, the two of them covered the important events of the day. Or she’d be a news-hound like columnist Dorothy Thompson, the blue-eyed tornado-a real force to be reckoned with,

One thing was sure. You would never catch her being like Rosalind Russell in the movie “His Girl Friday”, a star newspaper reporter with a smart answer to everything who wants to give it all up leave the paper and marry some mild-mannered mamas boy.

No sir, not for Betty Joseph!

She was going to carve out a niche in the newspapers and she meant to get it carved.

shopping cartoon 1950s

Now she was applying this same determination, and keen eye in the bold undertaking of food shopping. Mom was a first-rate sleuth at uncovering bargains wherever they were and she was willing to travel to the ends of the earth to get them.

Copyright (©) 2013 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved

Coming Soon- Mom’s Suburban Supermarket Adventures Pt II The Case of the Supermarket Sleuth




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