Old habits die hard. I used to measure every penny that I spent because it was necessary to do so. Now I continue to do so simply because it just feels right. When I was a child after my father died our family lived on a very strict budget. There was little room for extravagances. We wasted nothing. Even the containers inside which our purchases were packaged became valuable. We used the paper bags to cover our school books, as drop cloths when we painted, and to hold trash. I had an entire set of doll furniture fashioned from boxes, cans, and scraps of cloth. Our toys were stored inside cartons that once held fruit and vegetables. Our mother made a big roast on Sunday and then proceeded to use the leftovers to fashion at least two more meals during the week. Soft drinks and sweets were only in our home for parties and special occasions. We repaired and repurposed everything that we owned until it literally fell apart from use and age.
My mother loved sales. We found all of our clothing at reduced prices. We didn’t always get the exact color or style that we wanted but she managed to find good values that lasted a very long time. My grandmother often later retrieved our outgrown couture to use for scrap quilts. The only items for which Mama consistently paid top dollar were our shoes. As babies we wore either Stride Rite, Buster Brown, or Red Goose high tops. Once we were sure footed she only took us to stores where a salesperson was highly trained in the art of fitting shoes. It would take hours to get just the right ones for each of our feet and the cost was always so high that I almost fainted at the idea of my mother spending so much for something that would be worn out and all but useless in only a few months. Mama always commented that we would have good feet when we were finally fully grown and that we would thank her one day. She used to cringe when I became independent and bought styles that were the fad rather than those that were well made and correct for the specifics of my feet.
As a young wife and mother the lessons that I had learned from my mother served me well. I knew how to purchase groceries with a bare minimum of expense but still feed Mike and my daughters well. I found uses for every little thing, shopped sales, did most of my own repairs, and, like Mama, spent shocking amounts of money so that my children would have very good shoes. Back then I always went to visit the Lippies, a local family who ran a Buster Brown shoe store close to our home in the Glenbrook Valley area. They were the same people who had run a store near my childhood home and from whom Mama had religiously returned each time that our toes began to push against the ends of our shoes. They literally refused to sell anyone a pair of shoes that did not properly fit. I knew that my little ones would get the best care possible for their growing little piggies if I took them there.
The visits to the shoe store were always long because of the meticulousness of Mr. and Mrs. Lippie. They filled me in on the news of friends that I had known from school and church as well as the happenings in their own family. There came a time when their conversations became dire because their eldest son with whom I had graduated from high school was diagnosed with melanoma. It seemed inconceivable to me that the outcome of his illness would be anything other than positive because I was still in my early twenties when they both spoke of his condition. When I learned that he had died I was stunned. He had been a quiet and pleasant fellow and it just didn’t seem right that he had been cut down so early in his life.
Mr. and Mrs. Lippie seemed to quickly grow old after that and before long they had shuttered their store forever. It was probably just as well because as my daughters grew into teenagers they wanted a more hip kind of shoe than the Lippie’s offered. To this very day I find myself longing for someone who will carefully measure my feet and provide me with a shoe that fits like a glove. My mother was quite right in her warning that cheap shoes would eventually cause me problems. Now I have to spend quite a chunk of change to find shoes that will provide me with the comfort and support that I need.
I still hunt bargains with everything else and I often find myself missing my mother whenever I find an especially good deal. I think about the places that she would very much enjoy and I frequent them even though I don’t really need to do so. I’m a Dollar Tree junkie to this very day. I’ve got an entire set of Christmas china that I found there one day. When I pull out those dishes each year I invariably have someone ask where I found the lovely pattern. They are shocked to learn that I bought each plate for a single dollar bill.
I’m proud of other finds as well but I don’t want to give away too many of my secrets. A good friend with whom I often used to comb the city looking for exceptional prices would tell anyone who asked about one of her bargains that it came from a little boutique. She was as good Mama and maybe even better at getting the most bang for her buck. She was a trader at heart and rarely paid full value for anything. I so loved standing quietly behind her while she struck the deal of a lifetime for something that I wanted to buy.
I don’t haunt the bargain basements of our city as often as I used to do. It was always more fun to do so with a partner. It took a good eye and lots of time to land the deal of a lifetime. It was more fun to share the victory with a kindred spirit. All of my shopping buddies are gone so now I find myself just running to a variety of local places that offer the best buys on my favorite things. I also use online shopping as a way of saving but it’s not nearly as much fun as haggling with real live people and scoring a victory. I have come to realize that what I really enjoyed was the companionship associated with shopping in strange locales in search of wonderful things that I sometimes didn’t even realize that I needed until I was stowing them in the trunk of my car.
Both of my daughters insist that they hate shopping but I may have a couple of up and coming buddies with my twin grandchildren, Ian and Abby. Ian loves antique and junk shops and Abby gets as excited about a big score as my mother ever did. Last summer she and I found pure gold in a couple of seventy per cent off sales. She is willing to cull through the merchandise with me as though we are searching for diamonds. I suspect that if I wait just a bit those kids just might become my future partners in the quest for deals.
Until then I have to go it alone except for those special occasions when my cousin, Ingrid, comes to town. She and I share the same genetics when it comes to shopping. Mostly though, because she lives out of town, I am a bachelor longing for a suitable bargain hunting partner. I still keep an eye open and an ear to the ground in hopes of finding a super sale somewhere. I haven’t completely lost my touch but it is definitely getting rusty. As long as I’m wearing my expensive but sturdy shoes I can still out walk and out shop the average soul. I suspect that my bargain hunter DNA runs deep.