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.