These excursions to the farm store were, of course few and far between. Most of the time we lived off the food we grew and the purchases from the coop, to which my parents were early members. It was actually a buying club when it first started, and being wheat farmers and goat herders, we supplied wheat flour, milk, yogurt and cheve. Going to the coop was a looked forward to event. I always relished anytime we got to leave the farm, which was not my mother's idea of fun. I, on the other hand, loved it. My mother's reluctance for outings was well founded. Loading up 4-6 kids all under the age of 8 or 10 to go shopping, now sounds like a trip to hell, but as the fourth child, I cared not one iota what trouble I caused for my mother.
The Community Mercantile, our local food coop, founded by a handful of back-to-the-landers, was located in an old neighborhood grocery store in old West Lawrence across the street from the Lawrence Community Nursery School, which was a cooperative preschool founded to promote integrated schooling. It only had about 800 square feet of space and all of it filled with health food. There was even a little Fisher Price orange plastic cart for kids to push around the store, which I was forbidden to use, as I was told I went to fast and ran into too many things.
The selection was small and familiar. You could get bulk tofu out of a reach in fridge that sat floating in a plastic bag in a five gallon bucket, panda licorice, gourmet cheeses, Mountain High yogurt, bulk beans, grains, spices, carob and raisins. There was a tiny bakery building covered in trumpet vine located in the dirt parking lot of the store to whom we sold flour and the bakers would make delicious whole grain breads and a cookie called a jammy. It was made from wholewheat flour, lightly sweetened with honey that had a depression in the center filled with different kinds of jam and if we were good, and my mom had the money, we would all get one!
Once while shopping at the coop, I asked to go to the bathroom located in the basement. I walked down the narrow stairs into the dimly lit room filled with the bulk bins. After using the bathroom, I then decided to open up the bulk bin chutes, one after another, first black beans, kidney beans, white beans, lentils, and then on to brown rice, white rice, millet, barley, and oats onto the floor. I had a wonderful time swirling all the colors together, until my mother discovered me and my fifteen bean soup mix. This was far from my first offense as I had a tendency to run off as soon as the double doors to the big grocery opened to swallow us all in. My mother, who had at least one other small child in tow, could never run as fast as me, and I was off to explore the store. My sister, who was my bosom friend, was often asked to hold my hand and not let go.
So when I had to go to the bathroom, in another basement at a different store, she came with me. At this store there were huge pipes, with great wheels attached to them. It took both of us to open the pipe enough for a surge of water to pour through. Once the water was running, we could not close it again, so we ran like hell for the upstairs. My sister, although my closest sibling, immediately told my mother that I, alone, had flooded the basement. After this incident I was forced to ride in the cart with my mother.
This was incredibly chaffing to my free roaming spirit, but while confined to the cart, I was pretty innocuous because my mother was usually right in front of me, until it was time to unload the cart. My mother only shopped every two weeks, and the grocery cart would be piled high. She would diligently move all the items to the belt, and while her attention was directed at the piles of fruits and vegetables boxes of crackers and bags of chips, I jumped from the cart, climbed onto the belt and beat my hands rapidly upon the keys of the cash register, jamming the machine and freezing the $200 food order in progress! The agony on my mother's face was plain, and I still remember the thrill it gave me to see my mother upset. I loved to get people riled up, as my hippy lifestyle was just too uneventful and I longed for some action. I was able to accomplish this feat twice before being left with one of my mom's midwife friends who lived in town, while she took the rest of the kids shopping. My mother used to insist that I was demonic, but I was really quite well behaved -when left with other people.