Monday, December 23, 2013

Once Upon a Co-Op

When I moved from Los Angeles to Pence, Wisconsin in 1983 to open a bed and breakfast, I soon found that unless one has an independent income, a bed and breakfast is not a good idea…especially in an area so dependent on seasonal business. So when I saw an ad for manager of the local food co-op, I applied.

Food co-ops seem to thrive in small, rural communities where, if you don’t know everyone personally, you’ve at least seen them frequently. The total population within 20 miles of Pence couldn’t have been much above 15,000, so working in a co-op gave me exposure to a wide range of people, most of whom I really liked. It was a very small co-op and I was its only full-time employee.

Thinking back on all the people who came through the store, I chose the first three who came randomly to mind. 

Martha was really a very nice, intelligent, friendly woman with an equally nice husband and two young daughters. Her daughters, and I think she herself, suffered an amazing range of allergies, to the point where their home had no carpets, because allergens lurked in carpets. But the thing I remember about Martha was not the family allergies, but the fact that she insisted on breast-feeding her five year old daughter. Odd how things stand out in one’s mind.

And then there was JoAnn. No matter how bright the day, a dark, oppressive cloud always preceded her into the store—and, I’m sure, everywhere else. No one who knew her ever dared ask “How are you?” because they knew better. JoAnn was the poster child for the Perennial Victim set. No one liked her—one of her most often repeated refrains; no one understood her. No one cared whether she lived or died. Life was one long, hard road of total misery. No silver lining to any cloud. She would cast her net of sorrow and persecution over anyone who entered the store. Were I less diplomatic I might have tried to interrupt her endless litany of woes long enough to point out that she never asked a question of anyone or showed the slightest interest in anyone else’s lives. Ever. To do so would detract from the time she wished to devote to her detailed account of her own living hell.

Carol had had a pretty wild life. She’d left the area several years before and had two mixed-race children—beautiful and very nice boys, who were about seven and nine when she returned home. She’d developed some physical issues, too, and was on crutches. She had also adopted some extreme if nondenominational religious views. One time around Christmas she came in with her boys, who were wearing bright stocking-type caps. “You look like elves,” I said, which obviously pleased them, but Carol immediately launched into a tirade which, I gathered, had something to do with the evils of paganism. There were no such thing as elves. No such thing as Santa Claus. She refused to buy a brand of spaghetti sauce because the label featured a replica of the Santa Maria flying a flag with a red cross, and that was apparently a pure Satanic image.

The final straw, for me, was while she was in the store one day, she sneezed and I automatically said “God Bless you.” Wrong, wrong, wrong. How dare I inflict my heathen beliefs on her? I couldn’t resist saying “You know, Carol, when people are merely trying to be friendly, you really shouldn’t attack them for it.” It fell, I fear, on deaf ears. I’ve occasionally wondered, in the intervening years what happened to her kids. I did not envy them.

Ah, and as my mind goes back to those years, many more people swim to mind, including one of the only two people in my entire life I can honestly say I have known personally and despised. But it’s a long story, so perhaps in another blog, if you might be interested in hearing the story.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (


Chloe Thurlow said...

It's interesting to know more about food co-ops in the US, especially in the wake of the food banks suddenly springing up all over Europe in this time of severe cuts in social spending and a squealing swerve to the right. Let's hope 2014 bring more joy and good will across the planet. A link to my blog, not quite the same, but do take a read.

Kage Alan said...

They'd make for interesting characters in a book one day, D. As always, I'm in awe of the details you pull out.