Published in the Rains County Leader on March 31, 2020:
The spirit of unity in small towns, especially in Emory, has been a topic of several of my columns over the years. It seems like a crisis brings out the best in people unless, of course, they’re fighting over the last package of toilet paper on the shelf. Once they get home from the hunting and gathering, they seem more than willing to share if they know of a need.
Last Friday, two weeks after my previous shopping excursion, I finally ventured to Brookshire’s. I more than qualify for Senior “Happy” Hour, so I arrived around 8:30 a.m. and found a less than half-full parking lot. Inside wasn’t too crowded either, and because everyone is so conscious of being socially distant, there weren’t the usual clogs of visitors in the middle of the aisles. I saw a few friends, but we exchanged quick greetings and moved on.
I was pleased to see that the produce area was well stocked with only a few bare shelves. I was able to find everything on my list which was made based on what I thought we would eat before it ruined. I hate to say it, but I’m not always as careful when I know I can make a quick run to the store at a moment’s notice.
The meat coolers were surprisingly full. I guess everybody is still working on the hamburger meat they stockpiled in the first flurry of panic buying. The dairy aisles were a little sparse, but we don’t use much milk, so I was able to find what we needed. I had to scrounge way in the back of the cheap butter case to avoid buying the high dollar brand, and I had to settle for a couple of two-stick packages instead of a four-pack, but I was happy to get it.
The bread section was getting pretty empty with most of what was available being white bread, the kind I used to roll into a dough ball when I was a kid. I finally found some multi-grain bread on the top shelf that had a little bit more texture but didn’t break my budget, so I snagged it and moved on to the cereal. Scarce would be the word there. Most of what was left was mostly sugar in a box, but I found two boxes of Corn Chex and one lonely box of oatmeal. We won’t discuss the paper aisle which looked like it had been swept by a forest fire.
Up to that point, nothing had really surprised me based on what I had seen on Facebook – but then I went to the baking ingredients section. I was fighting a sinus infection when David’s birthday rolled around in February, so I didn’t feel like baking his special once-a-year German Chocolate Cake. I bought one and promised I’d make him one later. Our 20th anniversary is the 31st, and I’ve got nothing else on my calendar, so I decided this was the time. I didn’t expect to have trouble finding ingredients because so many people say they don’t cook any more. Boy, was I wrong! Along with several kitchen staples, there was no flour, no baking powder, and no evaporated milk. I think I have enough flour, and this recipe doesn’t call for baking powder, but the milk is the main ingredient for the frosting other than sugar and butter.
I stood and stared at the empty shelf for a while as if expecting some cans to magically appear. When they didn’t, I began thinking of alternatives. There were still several cans of sweetened condensed milk, and I wondered if I could use that and just cut down on sugar. I put a can in my cart and moved on, thinking that I had some research to do.
Later, after the groceries were put away, I sat down at my computer to see what I could figure out. Of course, I ended up on Facebook, so instead of resorting to Google, I sent out an appeal to the cooks in my social network. I received several suggestions about where I might find an answer, and my sister-in-law sent me instructions for making my own evaporated milk out of regular milk. A friend from church suggested that I substitute him for David and he would eat the cake – and my brother suggested that I use the sweetened condensed milk and the same amount of sugar. “What could it hurt?” he asked.
Those last two answers gave me a laugh, and the others gave me options to try, but four answers really surprised me. Four people said they had evaporated milk and would let me have a can if I needed it. First of all, who knew canned milk was a shelter-at-home staple? And second, who would have expected not just one but four people to offer to share part of their stash? I’m touched, and their generosity gives me a real sense of pride in our little community. On the other hand, let’s see what happens if I post that I’ve run out of toilet paper.