I think the thing mom misses most is being able to get in her car and go shopping. Shopping was her joy, her entertainment, her therapy. Unfortunately, she has now delegated that task to me. It is not something I relish.
Shopping wasn't really about spending money because she could be just as happy in the Dollar Store as she was in Lord & Taylor. I think it was the thrill of the buy, the acquisition. I mean, why would someone need more than 30 pairs of white pants in addition to at least 5 pairs of white culottes (and what bright mind designed that fashion statement?).
As a youngster, I loved going shopping with her. It was always an adventure, not to mention she usually bought me something as well. Who could resist a gift, even if it was a package of underwear. If she had a tough day at school, she’d hop in the car and run to the store. Most Saturdays we spent strolling the stores at Green Acres. There were antique stores, and flea markets, and garage sales. You never know where you might find a bargain.
She was easily swayed in her purchases. I remember walking through Abraham & Straus one day, when we passed a new department—wigs. She was intrigued and started trying some on.
"You look great," I said. "Why don't you buy one?"
"I don't need a wig. What would I do with a wig?" she asked.
"Well, it'd be a lot of fun," I replied. (What did I know? I was a kid.)
"Why not?" she retorted, and promptly bought the wig.
My brother is probably reading this and saying, "Wig? What wig? I never knew she bought a wig." I can't blame him for being dubious. My mother has short hair; the wig had short hair. In fact, it was exactly the same beehive style, with bangs, that she sported then. She wore it once and relegated it to the basement closet. I’m hoping it made its way into a garage sale because I’d hate to think of what has been nesting in it these past 40 years.
My mother was, and still is, very generous with her purchases, and each new addition to the family, was another opportunity to shop. First Lorrie, then Doug, then grandchildren, cousins and their spouses and children, in-laws, neighbors, friends. Shopping for other people is her way of expressing her love. It lets other people know she’s thinking of them. Even in her sometimes befuddled state, she still thinking of others. “Did I remember Maya’s graduation?” “When is Noemi’s birthday?” “What can I buy Marilyn to thank her?” “Who did I miss?”
Now, she has lost interest in most of her things, though she loves to be surrounded by them as they bring back memories of trips to the store with her children; vacations with the family; sweet tokens from my father; and gifts from her friends Sylvia, Edith, and Alva. Her house is now riddled with stuff—purchases and acquisitions made over a lifetime…a lifetime of memories (Though writing this, I couldn’t help but think of George Carlin’s routine on “stuff.” We do need a little levity here.)
In between the comfort, however, she is filled with worry. “I’m leaving you and Bruce with a mess to clean up and deal with.” She’s concerned that we’ll argue over jewelry; that fights will break out over china. I’ve tried to assure her that won’t happen. I try to joke with her: “We each have our own china; we have no interest in yours.” But she’s still agitated.
So as I age, I want to remember that when I shop with abandon, do it for others. Things should be triggers of joy and good memories, not of worries for my myself or my children. I want to remember that it is, indeed, only stuff. Acquisitions add to a life, but they do not make it a rich one.