Grocery Run

We are all wearing masks in the supermarket. Sometimes I’m not sure I’ll ever get use to this.

We, the masked people in the grocery store, behave a lot differently than normal shoppers used to. For example: Nobody is touching stuff on the shelves.

Remember when you used to go shopping and everyone would touch stuff? Yeah. Me too. It’s just what we did.

Young mothers would push buggies with their bare hands and inspect each label while Junior gummed up a wrapped Snickers bar.

But that doesn’t happen anymore.

I see a young woman pushing a cart. She is wearing latex gloves and a colorful mask. She is not inspecting labels, she is rushing through the store as though something is chasing her. Everyone is doing this. I don’t blame them. Nobody wants to be here.

Ever since this coronavirus hit, my wife and I have been flipping a coin to see who goes to the grocery store. If it’s heads, I go to the store. If it’s tails, we flip again.

And I’m still not used to wearing my mask. I feel like an idiot. I wear an N95 drywall mask I used back when I used to hang sheetrock. I used to wear a mask like this all day. I didn’t mind it back then because the only other choice was a respirator with HEPA filters. Those big masks look like you’re wearing a Playtex 18-hour support bra on your face.

I remember lunch breaks when I would go out into the fresh air, rip off that drywall mask, and pull in one giant breath. It was pure rapture. You can’t imagine how good it felt to take a cleansing breath when you’d been wearing a glorified kneepad over your mouth all day.

What am I saying? Of course you can imagine what it feels like. You’re probably wearing one right now.

I know I am.

It’s been hard keeping any sort of supermarket routine going for these past 100-some-odd days of quarantine. Our grocery store, for instance, keeps running out of ground beef and chicken.

Last week—this is true—we had to eat tofu burgers for supper. I tried to feed one to my dog when my wife wasn’t looking. My dog licked it once, then walked away.

When I reach the checkout line, everyone is standing far from each other. It’s bizarre. There must be 10-foot gaps between us.

Only a few months ago, we were all going to the same retail stores and the same theaters. But now we are all kind of scared of each other.

So there are no conversations like there used to be. And there aren’t any smiles or everyday remarks with your neighbor. Mainly because you can’t see your neighbor’s mouth, so you never know if they’re smiling, or talking, or what.

Sometimes I wonder if our world will pull through this. Sometimes I feel like this is one big sci-fi movie. I’m not complaining. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not afraid of change, I’m just wondering if I will recognize this old place?

I hardly recognize it now. And I get unsettled sometimes.

Already I don’t recognize baseball, which is coming back after a long absence. The major leagues have changed some rules due to COVID-19. There will be no fans in the stands. Ball players are not allowed to spit sunflower seeds under threat of execution by firing squad.

Truist Park in Atlanta will be a graveyard. There is even talk of robotic umpires. It’s going to be weird.

Ironically, around this time last year, my wife and I were in Atlanta, watching the Braves play. The sun was hot. Forty-two thousand people were sweating in unison. I was eating nachos from a helmet. Life was good.

The thing about baseball parks is that everyone is together. You sort of make friends with people who sit in your section. You’re thigh-to-thigh with complete strangers, and you’re pulling for the same team. You become buddies. You high-five. You spill your beer all over each other. I will miss that.

Maybe it will come back one of these days, but right now it’s ancient history. And I just wonder about us.

There is a little girl in the checkout line ahead of me. She is pretty, with braids woven tightly against her head. Six, maybe seven. She is helping her mother unload a buggy.

We are mostly Floridians in this store, and our state has had more COVID-19 cases than you can shake a mask at. And it’s getting worse.

The little girl is wearing plastic gloves and a mask with cartoon characters on it. At first, I’m thinking it is a shame, that a child has to grow up in a frightening world like this.

But do you know what I notice? She doesn’t seem like any of this bothers her. She is a child. Happy. This is just the way the world is. Love it or hate it, she accepts it. No big deal. This is life. Might as well enjoy it.

She looks at me and I can tell she’s smiling because her eyes become little squints. She raises her hand and waves at me. And even though I’m wearing a mask, this tiny human being sees past it somehow.

“Hi,” she says.

This is all it takes. This is all I needed today. I raise my hand and say, “Hi.”

And just like that, I know we’re going to be okay.


  1. Sharon Brock - June 28, 2020 11:14 am

    This senior in the high risk category thanks you for wearing a mask. God bless Sean.

  2. jane davis - June 28, 2020 11:55 am

    Best one yet, to this recent subscriber to the camaraderie of your southern voice, which resonates deeply with every word. From a sister southern voice. 😉

  3. Robert M Brenner - June 28, 2020 12:20 pm

    Sweet story! ❤️ Thank God for children ❤️

  4. Susan A. Royal - June 28, 2020 12:27 pm

    It’s those little things that get me through life. Like reading your column every day. Helps keep me resilient.

  5. Bernadette Wyckoff - June 28, 2020 12:34 pm

    Well I started writing a beautiful long comment about a little almost 7 year-old boy giving me a big wet hug at a splash park yesterday when I hit the home button and the comment was gone. Comment may have been gone but the blessing and memory of that hug will be forever in my heart. I got two more hugs before we left. I had been afraid and so had he to get to close due to Covid…but never again will this 73 year old be afraid of a hug. That little boy won’t either. He is my grandson and he calls me Mam. LOVE won over Covid in our hearts forever. Be blessed and never give up Hope.

  6. Molly - June 28, 2020 12:41 pm

    Beautiful! Yes,Sean, we are all going to be okay!!

  7. D Moore - June 28, 2020 1:10 pm

    Good reminder from children…it is ok to speak with a mask on. Southerners, don’t let covid take that from you.

  8. Retired Ol' Geezer - June 28, 2020 1:35 pm

    Thanksfor this one. Thank you very much. I think you’re right.

  9. Allison Gilmore - June 28, 2020 1:38 pm

    I was doing okay and just enjoying agreeing with Sean’s comments and laughing at his humor until that little girl in the mask smiled at him and said “hi.”   And that made everything okay for Sean.   And now I’m crying.   Over the past few months, I’ve cried so much thinking of all the things going on and what kind of effect it will have on the children and young adults in our lives who will inherit this crazy mess of a world.   Children and young people learn from the adults around them.   I know that many children and young people are learning to be positive and resilient and strong and kind and compassionate — even with the pandemic, and even with the racial injustices we’re fighting against, and even with the economic crises, and even with the political turmoil.   Sean, thanks for the reminder that I need to find hope for the future by focusing on those positive, resilient, strong, kind, and compassionate children and young people.

  10. Charles Mathers - June 28, 2020 2:44 pm

    At least people in your grocery store wear masks. Very few here in St Simons Island (Brunswick) GA do. Most people here live in a self absorbed bubble of selfishness.

    Keep safe, Sean! Stay healthy! Keep on writing! We so desperately need you!

  11. Mitch Ferguson - June 28, 2020 3:57 pm

    Don’t like many of the rule changes.. Trying to change the National League into the other one. Hope we can have a discussion about this.
    Going to ruin baseball.

  12. Linda Moon - June 28, 2020 4:35 pm

    So, were you wearing the mask right then as you typed out the pixels that became a story? I’m smiling as I type through this mask of the internet, and I’ll raise my hand just as soon as each of them is freed from the keyboard. Stay safe, be well, and remember the wisdom of the Serenity Prayer. Keep typing the pixels to us, Sean!

  13. Helen De Prima - June 28, 2020 4:48 pm

    I don’t go out much (my husband loves to grocery shop and I love to let him do it), but when I do, seems I see more politeness, more consideration in stores and on the roads. Clerks wishes me a good day like they mean it, other drivers yielding right-of-way without horn-blowing. Maybe wishful thinking on my part — I hope not.

  14. didyouseethis - June 28, 2020 5:03 pm

    YES to this!

  15. MAM - June 28, 2020 6:04 pm

    The children usually get it right, and this one obviously lives in a positive home. Good for her and her parents. And yes, you can usually tell if someone is smiling by the squinty eyes. Keep smiling, everyone. We will get through this. We always have. We always will until God comes to take us.

  16. lisa spencer - June 28, 2020 7:34 pm

    Well then I guess I’m a selfish one in Dothan. I will never wear one. I don’t feed the fear mongering going on.

  17. Christine Washburn - June 28, 2020 7:44 pm

    Wearing a mask is protecting the other person just in case you are asymptomatic. It’s being loving and caring about others lives, not just our own.
    Thank You😘

  18. Beth - June 28, 2020 7:52 pm

    One of my biggest surprises was realizing that the folks who work at our local Publix still know me and say hi like always, even though I’m wearing a mask. I just ordered two new masks that have a vinyl window so your mouth is visible. I learned about these from my husband’s audiologist, who is hearing impaired herself. My husband has excellent hearing aids, but not being able to read lips has made visits with soft-spoken doctors a little more challenging than usual. I think the “mouth-window” masks are incredibly clever.

  19. BJean - June 28, 2020 9:43 pm

    Good one Sean! Made me smile😊

  20. Ala Red Clay Girl - June 29, 2020 2:05 am

    Lisa, I am with you on this. I wear a mask only if it is required but otherwise I do not. If wearing a mask protects a person from the virus then how does a person not wearing a mask pose a threat? Some people cannot wear a mask due to asthma or other respiratory issues. We shouldn’t let fear take over our lives completely.

  21. Linda Everett - June 29, 2020 3:52 am

    Sean, great story, I know how you are feeling. It is so sad our lives have been so changed in the “blink of an eye”. I, for one, want my life and my country back. I Pray every night the Lord will end this nightmare and the country will once again be great. Bless all you do Sean,I have sensed from your writing that you are as concerned about all of this as those who follow you. Thank you for being you.

  22. jstephenw - June 29, 2020 4:23 am

    Sean, thanks for taking the upside-down world I have been crying in and helping me make sense of it. My favorite line was: “But do you know what I notice? She doesn’t seem like any of this bothers her. She is a child. Happy. This is just the way the world is. Love it or hate it, she accepts it. No big deal. This is life. Might as well enjoy it.” We will get through and survive. We always do. Thanks bro! Hug Jamie, as she is the compass that keeps you moving in the right direction. Your North Star. We all need one. Mine is named Sherry.

  23. Bobbie - June 29, 2020 2:56 pm

    Thanks again for a smile and a bit of encouragement. So needed each day. I’ve noticed too that people for the most part are kinder these days, the ones at the store I mean…Especially seeing my cane. I must say Publix has the most courteous and thoughtful employees. I try to make allowances for those who go down the wrong way in the aisle. I’ve been there myself. Yes, God bless the children. This is life for them and they go with the flow. They’ll be able to tell their children one day how they survived this crazy time, and hopefully all they learned from it, mainly to be grateful, and altho things are far from normal, there’s still a lot of good out there.
    Be safe, be strong and be thankful. ❤️🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸

  24. Johnny Payne - June 29, 2020 4:07 pm

    This young lady has the right attitude!

  25. Janet C Averett - June 30, 2020 12:22 pm

    so very true. thank you for sharing this story. gives me hope and peace.
    jan averett

  26. Kathy Daum - June 30, 2020 2:05 pm

    Thank you. I needed to hear this today.

  27. lsjetpack1 - June 30, 2020 10:36 pm

    Are we really happy here with this lonely game we play? We’re lost in a MASQUErade.

  28. Tammy S. - July 2, 2020 6:29 am

    And a little child shall lead them!! Loved your ending in this one. Amazing how a simple “hi” can change a day. Especially from the little ones who are braving through all of this and probably a tad confused. Our 7yo grandson, who stays with us every other weekend, told me his last visit “I know you probably thought I’d never say this, Mima, but I want to go back to school. I just want my normal life back.” I gave him a big hug and told him I understood, then he bounded off to play. Love how kids have more insight than we give them credit and how they show love, even to masked strangers in a storyline. May we all try to be more understanding and loving like the little ones around us.

  29. Tammy S. - July 2, 2020 6:30 am

    *store line (just couldn’t let it go) 😂

  30. Priscilla Veldt - July 2, 2020 5:19 pm

    Thank you for wearing a mask, protecting others is as important as protecting ourselves. However, if the type of mask you are wearing is a drywall mask with the respirator valve on it, please choose another type of mask, as that does not protect others, it allows exhaled air (and droplets) to escape. it only filters out inhaled air. If you don’t have other effective disposable masks available to you, there are many cloth masks that work well and fit well also. I would be happy to send you a couple of the 3D cloth masks I make with filter material built in (washable, dryable). I am a medical professional (RN, former medic) and have researched quite a bit on the mask issue.

  31. Joanie Kenning - July 3, 2020 4:30 pm

    Your story is inspiring. Leave it to a child to show us the way. If she can do it, so can we. I hope your eyes squint too under your mask. Hopefully one day we won’t have to wear them. But till then, lets listen to the childrens good attitudes. God Bless you, And the children who are the real hero’s.😷 🦋


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