When I was a child Saturdays were the best part of the week. My brothers and I would wake up without an alarm clock to watch the children’s programing on television while our mother slept later than usual. We’d lounge around in our pajamas enjoying our kid world until she awoke and it was time to do our weekly chores. Once we had completed all of our tasks and our home was in perfect order again, we would dress up to go out shopping at one of the malls or in downtown Houston.
Shopping was a major event for us even though we rarely purchased anything of great expense. We were bound by a tight budget, so most of what we did was gaze into the shop windows or peruse the aisles to see what the latest fashions and products happened to be. We clutched the fifty cents that our mother gave us as a reward for our hard work in hopes of finding something great to purchase with our funds. When nothing appealed to us, we saved our income for another day. In our minds the hunt for something wonderful was more fun than the actual purchase.
When I left home to start my own life, my mother often dropped by to see if I wanted to join her in the Saturday ritual. I almost always went along with her because I liked the idea of just the two of us spending time together. I rarely purchased anything but when I did, my mother would chide me if I did not find a sale or the best possible price. She was alway very careful with her spending and she encouraged me to be the same.
In my mother’s final years I reserved Friday afternoons and evenings for her. I went to her house immediately after work and let her decide what we would do. Invariably our excursion included an early dinner before the crowds came followed by shopping somewhere. We often ended up at the Macy’s in the mall near her home or walking the aisles of the local Walmart. Now and again we just went to a grocery store so that she might get provisions for the following week.
My mama so enjoyed shopping that she would literally walk up and down every single aisle examining items and studying the prices to find the best deals. She often purchased good buys to set aside for future gifting. In fact, she had a designated closet filled with unique items that would one day become presents for one of her children or grandchildren.
Those Friday nights often extended to almost midnight if we were in a store that stayed open twenty-four hours. I found myself wondering where she got her energy because I had awakened early and spent a long day at work before venturing forth on our shopping trips. I learned that she took a nap on Friday afternoons in preparation for our outing. Thus her energy on those nights seemed superhuman.
Mama lived with me and my husband in her final year of life. In the beginning of that sojourn she still wanted to go out and about on Friday nights, but in the last six months her interest in shopping waned. Even when she forced herself to come along with me on my errands she became quite tired within a few minutes and asked to return home.
I found myself missing our time together just browsing merchandise. Those were the moments when we had profound conversations and when my mother became so relaxed that her optimistic spirit came to life. She delighted in the walking and the talking and always congratulated herself on her purchasing acumen. I told her that she should write a book on how to live happily on a very small budget. That always made her smile.
After my mother died I lost interest in the kind of window shopping that she and I had always done. I tried doing it alone and there was no joy in wandering around without the conversation and laughter that I had shared with her. I almost felt lost and out of place just searching for the best of the sales like the two of us used to do. Neither of my daughters liked to shop, so I was left alone to attempt to recreate moments that were no more.
Now I am most likely to make all but my purchases online. Shopping is no longer the joy for me that it once was. There is something empty about doing it alone inside a store when I can sit in the comfort of my home and find what I need with a few clicks on the keyboard of my computer. The packages come straight to my door and it’s easy to return anything that does not work out well. Little wonder that malls are dying everywhere because I sense that many others have turned away from the idea of shopping as entertainment just as I have.
When my mother died, there were items in the room where she had stayed that were wrapped and labeled for members of the family. She had somehow stealthily purchased a retirement gift for me and had it ready to present at the party that never took place because it coincided with her death. She had found, among other things, a tea towel festooned with sunflowers and bumble bees that pronounced, “Life is a Garden. Live it!” Somehow she had captured the very idea that I needed to adopt in my new reality without my work and without her. It hangs proudly in my kitchen reminding me of our wonderful times not really shopping, but simply enjoying each other’s company. I miss those special times and probably always will.