Ahead of my time: it’s my bag

Janice Lindsay
Janice Lindsay

I’m no visionary, but in one way I’ve been way ahead of my time. In the vanguard. One of the first. An innovator.

That is in the realm of reusable shopping bags.

Thirty or thirty-five years ago, the Vermont Country Store, one of my favorite catalog companies, sold canvas shopping bags. I was tired of accumulating all those paper grocery bags and I bought two VCS bags.

Supermarket check-out baggers were unimpressed, even annoyed. Here I came with my canvas bags, practically the only shopper to be so inconsiderate. I could see them sigh and roll their inward eyes. They were trained to bag in paper. My canvas bags were larger and floppier. How inconvenient. I felt the baggers thinking, “Darn hippy granola-eating tree hugger, making me change my routine, grumble grumble.”

But I persisted. Occasionally I requested paper bags, to line wastebaskets, but mostly I toted canvas. The baggers seemed to vie with each other to avoid the check-out counter I chose.

Before long, one of my two bags picked up some garage-floor winter slush. I washed it in the washer and dried it in the drier, and, by comparing it with the unwashed one, I could see that it had shrunk by 15 percent. I liked the shrunken size better. It was closer to paper-bag size and easier to carry. I washed the other so it would shrink, too.

I wrote to Vermont Country Store to tell them. I emphasized that I wasn’t requesting replacements, only suggesting that they include laundering instructions with their bags.

But they sent me two brand new bags, with laundering instructions (hang to dry). I’ve never used those bags. I like the shrunken ones, and they don’t wear out. So those pristine, vintage canvas shopping bags sit in their original, sealed plastic wrappers, probably collectors’ items by now. Maybe I’ll donate them to the Smithsonian.

How the grocery-shopping world has changed, while those new bags slumbered like Rip Van Winkle in my closet!

The first change was to plastic bags. “Paper or plastic?” became a major grocery-store decision. I continued with canvas.

Soon the baggers stopped asking and chose plastic unless you specifically requested paper. On I went.

Then plastic bags became environmentally incorrect.

Imagine my surprise when cashiers began to pay me a nickel for every canvas bag I  used! I had transformed from pariah to hero, and I hadn’t changed a thing!

One day, a cashier gave me – no charge —  a brand new reusable grocery bag, designed and manufactured for that particular supermarket, to encourage me to bring reusable grocery bags as I had been doing for decades.

Some time later, a cashier gave me an air freshener to hang in my car. The miniature green grocery bag sported a tag reading, “Don’t forget your shopping bags!”

Then a sign appeared on the supermarket entrance door: “Did you remember to bring your reusable bags?”

Enough already! Stop nagging me! Of course I remembered. I’ve been remembering since before the cashiers were born!

What’s next? A recorded voice every time I open my car door? “Shopping bags! Shopping bags!”  A supermarket door that automatically locks me out if its sensor detects that I carry no reusable shopping bags?

Now, a new challenge. A cashier told me that some customers never wash their canvas bags. They use them for non-grocery purposes. The bags get so filthy that baggers hate to touch them.

Mine are a teeny bit worn and raggedy, but I keep them as clean as I can. I don’t want baggers rolling their eyes and silently criticizing my bags. Again.

Contact jlindsay@tidewater.net