Ipswich town historian Gordon Harris will be bent over his iPad, hand to head, frowning, trying to figure it out.
Ipswich icon David Wallace, as he settles in at his private abode after his hours-long 100th birthday gala, will be scratching his head over the question.
Thoughtful longtime Ipswich commentator Chuck Kollars will peer out from his top-floor turret overlooking Central Street, pondering, deliberating, musing, calculating.
Ipswich history buffs of every variety — and there are dozens of varieties of the species Ipswichius historicus (“Ipswich history buff”) — will want to know, years from now, exactly how to frame the extent of the pandemic lockdown.
How will we describe this extraordinary season, to our grandchildren, and generations beyond?
Well, here’s one way. Tell your grandchildren:
I believe this is a perfectly rational measuring stick because — well, let’s face it: Until this thing is over, what else is there to write a column about?
* * *
My big excitement this week was catching the husband of a high-profile Ipswich realtor going the wrong way at about the Lucky Charms.
I did not challenge him, however. I was tempted — and truth be told, on an earlier Market Basket shopping expedition a week or two ago, I forgot myself and swung around mid-aisle, only to be confronted by a young woman scowling from behind her face mask and pointing a bony witch-like finger to show me the way. The terror of this moment stuck with me, and inclined me to be gentle with the realtor’s husband going the wrong way in the cereal aisle.
It is not an easy life these days. Now that all the Market Basket aisles are one-way, if you miss the kitty litter, you can’t just turn around at the Ziploc bags and head back. You have to push on down to the end of the aisle, go left, hang a U-turn, and come all the way back up the seltzer aisle. At the end of which, you hang another leftward U-turn, hoist your kitty litter onto your cart, and — no, no, you can’t just back up and zip toward the produce department. Technically, you have to do that whole Ziploc bag aisle again, and hang a left again at the end of it. Then, if you don’t want to roll down the entire Poland Spring aisle again, you have to skip that aisle and go on to the bagels and peanut butter aisle — which, sad to say, is one-way going the wrong direction. So you’re back in O.W.H. Which stands for One-Way Hell.
At some point before I die, I hope to see the phrase One-Way Hell in a Gordon Harris Ipswich history post.
Our family patterns have shifted as well, in this extraordinary season.
In the old days, when I brought the groceries home from Market Basket, I quietly put everything away, or perhaps my wife Kristina or our daughter Lydia Charlotte heard me banging cupboard doors and came to help me.
Now, it’s nothing so casual.
Now, the moment I return, a seismic shift occurs. With the closing of the back door, our 203-year-old house shudders, the womenfolk sense it, and they come scuttling to the kitchen. Opening the groceries is entertainment now.
Look! You found plums!
Look! Buffalo Pretzel Crisps!
Look! Cool-fresh persimmon-flavored dental floss!
Mom! It’s unwaxed! Awesome!
Then begins the Great Putting Away.
All the grocery bags get dumped onto our “kitchen island” (not a very colonial-era feature, but don’t blame me; some previous owner installed it), so we find ourselves observing a circular routine. The Market Basket one-way floor plan has taken over our home by osmosis. I grab something out of a grocery bag, move to the place where it belongs (fridge, cupboard, shelf, elsewhere), deposit the item in question, then continue in the circular progression. Grab something from a bag on the island, put it away where it belongs, swing around the island. This must be how Robinson Crusoe put away groceries with Friday.
And God forbid you get to the cupboard with something still in your hand that should have gone into the fridge. Whatever you do, don’t turn around and try to make it right.
“Dad! Go AROUND! We’re going LEFT!”
Doug Brendel is locked down on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, except when he’s at Market Basket in Rowley. Otherwise, he’s doing humanitarian work at NewThing.net.