Well, that’s it. Symptoms of advancing years popping up, or maybe creakily- becoming- vertical, with each passing day. I walk down to Collins’, the green-grocer in the square to – What else?   buy veggies and fruit. This walk in itself is a Good Thing, as it not only conserves gas, but helps keep my own engine turning over. I used to take it for granted that if I got a little out of shape I could re-start my running program or take some aerobics classes at the gym, and after a week, everything would be working fine again. Now it is a daily struggle just to keep even. It is still cold this mid-March in Shere, which I hope will help burn my brown fat, as I have read somewhere it does. Every little bit helps.

You don’t serve yourself supermarket-style at Collins; there is no impersonal grabbing of a plastic bag, tossing it into the shopping cart, rushing through a check-out line past a mind-numbed cashier. Here, you are served by one of the Collins’ themselves, or by Rosie, who is faithfully at work in this small room, standing on the tiled floor, day after day, rain, shine, or snow and ice. You ask for what you want, they pick it out and put it in a little brown sack, weigh it, note the price on a scrap of paper, and then add it all up in their heads at the last.

In winter, the fruits and vegetables brimming from wooden boxes on shelves lining the walls, make me feel safe. Food is there, plentiful green, red, and orange things I can take home and put in a bowl or store in the frig for tomorrow. Others are displayed on a table in front of the big window which keeps the shop bright.  A small electric heater valiantly struggles, but fails, to warm the place, but the greetings are so friendly  by whoever is there it always seems cozy. In summer, juicy berries, glowing apricots and peaches, melons, and little pots of seasonal flowers overflow a table outside the window, brightening up the square.

Rosie is Shere-ite born and bred and has worked at this green-grocers all her life, even before the Collins’ bought the place 25 years ago. I don’t know how old she is – certainly not old-old – she seems ageless – and she is there today. No one else is in the shop just now. Rosie greets me, as she always does, with a genuine, crinkle- your- eyes, slightly mischievous smile. You have to smile back, no matter how you feel. She asks how I am, how Bernard is. We chat. About our health, mostly, Bernard’s and mine, and just enough of hers to keep us equal.

We talk about rhubarb. Although Rosie knows just about everything there is to know about fruit and vegetables, I expect to surprise her with my discovery that raw rhubarb with a touch of salt is delicious. She smiles tolerantly at me and tells me she and her friends used to raid the farmers rhubarb patch after school, pulling out the tender inner stalks for an afternoon snack. I am deflated, but still, she doesn’t know about salting them with cucumbers, draining them, and making a delicious salad.

When I lived in France several years ago and had a business to run, I would sigh and tap my foot as old (as was, not now) ladies in the village chatted with the green-grocer, the butcher, the cheese-monger, and the woman behind the window at the post office, keeping several people in line waiting for them to shut up. It was their daily outing, the high-moment of their day, their contact with the world outside their four walls catching up on village gossip. I did not have much sympathy.

I glance over my shoulder. So here I am, holding up a polite queue of people waiting to be served. I quickly wrap up the conversation and depart with numerous mumbled “sorry”s, laden with two bags full of broccoli, arugula, oranges, a few potatoes, leeks, and a cauliflower to carry up the incline to my home. Good for my arms.