Josna Rege

6. Morse’s Supermarket

In 1970s, Family, Food, Immigration, Stories, United States on March 2, 2010 at 6:15 am

Morse’s Supermarket was in Coolidge Corner, Brookline, just up Harvard Street from the movie theater, on the same side of the street as Paperback Booksmith.  It was small as supermarkets go, but to me at 15, newly arrived in the United States, it was huge. What struck me first was the solid aisle of toilet paper, in a multitude of brands,  packaged in twos and even in fours.  I remember writing about this disparagingly in my diary,  as if this gratuitous excess reflected not just freedom of choice in toilet paper but a flaw in the American character itself. (Not that I missed British toilet paper. In those days the toilet paper in public lavatories seemed to have been deliberately made as unabsorbent as possible—a cross between glassine and wax paper—and still came in individual sheets, each stamped Property of Her Majesty the Queen.) In Morse’s the milk came not just in pints, but in quart, half-gallon and even gallon-sized cartons, and so did the orange juice. And one whole aisle was devoted to pet food, in an equally staggering array of brands. (In India, we had made our dog Flash’s food from scratch, as we had our own.  My father would go to the Muslim meat market to buy beef, and my mother would make a hearty beef stew, bones and all, which we would serve to Flash mixed with rice. )

Morse’s was the old Brookline, as the McDonalds on the corner with the fluorescent plastic seats was the new. It was always just a little dingy, but solid and respectable, and it sold everything from floor mops to gefilte fish. In 1970, my mother would do our entire week’s grocery shopping there for forty dollars.

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  1. I don’t remember Morse’s, but I spent hours in Paperback Booksmith in the ’70s and ’80s, usually before a movie. It’s the memory of English toilet paper that prodded me to respond, though. When we lived in Leicester in the 1970s, we were baffled by the waxed paper. It didn’t seem like a comment on British morals, but on a certain cluelessness or unworldliness. And each sheet had a reminder printed along the edge: “Wash your hands, please.”

  2. Maybe. When I was in Daghestan, it was with a team of archaeologist, a mix of Americans, Russians, and Daghestanis. On the third week, a young woman student was brought in and we shared a room. We were living in a motel-like structure on a Caspian beach, with electricity but no running water. The outhouses were near the beach. The women’s had two stalls, one of which had no door. I always used that one because there was absolutely no one around, and I could look out at this beautiful view of sand, sea, and sky. Anyway, the Daghestanis were Muslim, mostly secularized, but they maintained some practices associated with Muslims, e.g., eating only with the right hand (or is it the left?). The first time she headed off to the loo, I offered her the roll of toilet paper. She was quite flustered and embarrassed in her refusal. Oh, another blow to Western hegemony!

    • Right! One of those filthy English customs; why use paper when you can use water?
      Daghestan: I’ll have to look it up in an atlas.
      If you ever go to Temenos Retreat in Shutesbury, Mass, their Pine Cottage has an outhouse with a lovely view. Clean, mosquito-screened, and with a window looking out into the woods. Thank you for posting, Sarah. x J

  3. Was the paper truly stamped “Property of Her Majesty the Queen”? Wouldn’t that be inviting, um, some disrespect to the Queen’s property?

    It’s not quite the same, but I remember feeling distaste for the rise of music CDs in the early 1990s. Why would anyone buy expensive CDs, I thought, when you couldn’t alter the music
    (to make mixes) and when the audiotape cassette was so much more economical?

    • Absolutely, yes, it was. An unfortunate choice of words indeed! Perhaps the idea was to discourage wastage or stealing. And by the way, it was not until the early 1980s, apparently, that public lavatories in Britain switched to soft toilet paper.

      As for the CDs, new is automatically good, it seems, especially if it requires us to buy all new products (the player as well as the CDs themselves) and prevents us from making our own recordings (although eventually, recordable CDs did come out). I remember, too, how it was said that CDs would be so much longer-lasting than vinyl records or cassette tapes, but it turned out that they got scratched quite easily and slipped & skipped quite often.

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