Supermarkets, plastic, and John F. Kennedy

What follows is a short story from Rosemary’s past. After talking with her, I have taken our discussion and turned it into a series of small stories highlighting the incredible life that she has led. Direct quotes from our discussion are highlighted in quotation marks. All else is a retelling written by yours truly.

We forget that there was once a time without the widespread and incessant use of plastic, a time before we had to worry about not using too much plastic, a time before the recycling logo. Of course, plastic itself has been around since the eighteen-hundreds, but Rosemary remembers very distinctly when she first started to see it used in daily life.

It was during her time in Iran. All of a sudden, this strange plastic tableware was becoming available. It wasn’t like china or metal. It didn’t break when dropped and it was easy to wash. It was fantastic.

“[It was] such a novelty to have something that didn’t break. I bought three bowls with lids and I still have two of the bowls.”

It was the first plastic tupperware container Rosemary ever used. How many of us remember the first plastic tupperware container we ever used?

Around the same time as plastic was becoming widely available in Iran, the supermarket was also taking hold. In the middle of Tehran, during their last couple of years in the country, a big supermarket opened. It wasn’t big by today’s standards, but it was big for the time.

Before then, Rosemary would have to visit several different shops before she found everything she needed. She would have to walk in and point to what she wanted. The shopkeeper would then gather the goods and ring them up on the cash machine. First the grocer, then the butcher, then… you get the picture.

But now she could jump into a taxi, journey into downtown Tehran, and walk into the supermarket. She could browse the aisles and grab what she needed, including whatever plastic plates and bowls she needed. Then she could take it to the counter and pay for it all. For someone who didn’t speak the language, this was a dream.

While Rosemary loved the supermarket and the simplicity it gifted to her, Bill was less enthusiastic. It wasn’t so much that he didn’t like the concept or the building itself – though Rosemary says he did find it oddly claustrophobic –, it was that Bill looked an awful lot like John F. Kennedy.

The time Rosemary and Bill spent in Iran coincided with the rise – and assassination – of John F. Kennedy. So as Bill walked down the streets of Downtown Tehran and as he strolled the aisles of that supermarket, people would call out ‘Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy’. After all, the man was all over the newspapers and with the articles came the pictures.

So Bill wasn’t as fond of the supermarket as Rosemary was.

Part of Rosemary’s fondness towards the supermarket was that it created a certain ease to the struggle that Rosemary had in Iran. It allowed for a level of independence. She didn’t have to rely so much on breaking the language barrier, on whether or not she was understood. At the butcher shop she was never 100% sure that she got the meat she wanted because she was never sure if she was communicating correctly. At the grocery store it would take a while to point to whatever she wanted and clarify whenever the shopkeeper misunderstood. It was humiliating.

Now she could stroll the aisles at will and take what she wanted. It was a small freedom, but one that helped alleviate some of the stress and anxiety in a difficult time.

That was, until events changed again and Rosemary and Bill found themselves leaving Iran and heading – via England – to Australia. But the events leading up to that change and the journey itself are another story. We can cover that next week.

Stay tuned for more stories from the life of Rosemary. Please note: these stories will not necessarily hold any chronological grounding. They are designed as snippets of understanding into the life of Rosemary and while some will hold chronology, others may not.