Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Heads or Tails #37 -- Mother

Today's Heads or Tails is seasonal. Just in time for Mother's Day, Barb wants us to remember "mother."


Both my parents are gone now -- we're just past the 8th anniversary of my mother's passing. I've not written much about my parents here. I did mention that my mother was such a shopper, she was still getting credit cards years after she died. I haven't seen one lately; that probably means she's about due for another one.

Shopping was what my mother liked to do. If someone stuck a "One Day Sale" sign in a pile of rags by the side of the road, she'd pull over to check it out. It was, we figured, a Depression-era thing: She had nothing then; she could indulge herself now. So why not?

No one talked much about those days... my mother's father died young and my mother's family had to depend on the charity of more prosperous relatives to stay afloat. The relatives' charity was apparently uneven: They could spring for a Catholic boarding school in Iowa where my mother and her sisters attended high school, but my mother did mention that she was often in doubt about where she might get her next pair of shoes.

After their deaths, while cleaning out my parents' house, my sister and I found how my mother had compensated for her childhood shoe deprivation. I always knew she had a lot shoes; I did not know she was a shoe hoarder on the order of Imelda Marcos. There were boxes and boxes of boots, heels, pumps -- many of them never, ever worn, not even once. The tags were still on.

My mother wasn't just a shopper. She was a pioneer of sorts. She was one of the first women to obtain an undergraduate degree at her formerly all-male college.

But she loved to shop. During her final illness she wanted to 'make a memory' for Younger Daughter. She saved up her strength for a final trip downtown, with Younger Daughter in tow, to visit the American Girl doll store. Then they had lunch at an elegant hotel on North Michigan Avenue. My mother's plan worked: Younger Daughter still talks of that day. It is a cherished memory.

But, then, Younger Daughter likes to shop, too.

Long Suffering Spouse does not. If there was any area of friction in the otherwise wonderful relationship between my wife and my mother, it was over shopping.

One time, at least 22 years ago, my mother tried to take Long Suffering Spouse on a big shopping expedition. Long Suffering Spouse was willing to indulge her. We had only two children at the time, Older Daughter and Oldest Son, and Oldest Son was still a bottle-feeding infant. I assume both of them came along, but only Oldest Son figures in the story. They all went to Marshall Field's downtown store -- which was then a shopper's paradise. (It is now just another Macy's. Macy's may be a fine chain of stores. It inspired a wonderful Christmas movie. But renaming Marshall Field's flagship State Street store has proved a disaster for the Macy's chain -- unless their idea is to sell the property to real estate developers when the condo market turns around again.)

My mother wanted to take her daughter-in-law and grandchildren to Field's because it was such a "grandma thing" to do. My father used to tease her that she'd forgotten everything she ever knew about raising children when she became a grandmother, but I don't think that was the problem. I think she thought children automatically behaved differently for grandparents.

And maybe older children can be persuaded (or wheedled, cajoled, or threatened) into behaving in a more subdued manner when in the grandparents' presence... but not infants. And this was to be the day that Oldest Son taught my poor mother that lesson.

Oldest Son never ate much; we were convinced for a long time that he derived nourishment directly from air molecules.

But when he wanted his bottle, he wanted it. Right then. And there would be a couple of times a day where he would become most insistent about it. It didn't matter where we were; it didn't matter what we were doing. For a kid who didn't eat much, being hungry was a need that had to be attended to immediately.

Somewhere along the line, while my mother was happily browsing through piles of merchandise marked for clearance, Oldest Son first began to note that he was hungry. My mother planned to take Long Suffering Spouse and the kids to the 7th floor dining room for lunch -- a truly grandmotherly thing to do -- and, when Oldest Son began to fuss, Long Suffering Spouse began urging an acceleration of these plans.

My wife's suggestions became more urgent as the clock ticked ominously toward Oldest Son's (self-)appointed mealtime. My mother wasn't listening, though. She couldn't help herself: There was always another pile of sale items en route to the elevator. And, I think, she probably thought my wife's increasingly ominous warnings were overblown -- inexperienced mothers worry too much. No, she must have thought, babies fuss when their lunch is delayed. Babies always fuss, but all will be forgiven and forgotten when we get to the dining room.

Long Suffering Spouse tried to explain to my mother the difference between normal fussing and what Oldest Son was about to do. And my mother must have thought, "Poor dear. She'll learn eventually. You just don't panic every time a baby cries a little."

But Oldest Son didn't fuss. And he didn't cry.

He erupted! He exploded!

He had store patrons looking for the air-raid shelter signs they'd not looked for since the early '60's. And he made these deafening shrieks all the way to the 7th floor -- and all the way to their table (they were seated quickly, for obvious reasons). He paused briefly when my wife stuck a bottle in his mouth. She'd had one ready; it needed only to be warmed and a staff person was only too glad to take the bottle from Long Suffering Spouse the moment if was proffered.

But the bottle came back boiling hot, something which, in her eagerness to get Oldest Son to subside, my wife didn't notice. Neither, for a blessed silent second or two, did Oldest Son.

But then he did notice.

And resumed shrieking.

Long Suffering Spouse dashed off to the ladies' room to try and cool the bottle down. My mother was left holding the baby. It must have been like holding an air horn that won't turn off. Imagine, if you will, a huge dining room filled with matronly ladies and their slightly stressed daughters or daughters-in-law and well-scrubbed and often bored grandchildren. You know that each and every one of them was staring at my mother at this point -- and their emotions must have run the gamut from aggravation to amusement. Several young mothers probably breathed a prayer of thanks that it wasn't their child doing this.

Eventually Long Suffering Spouse returned -- and Oldest Son stopped shrieking -- and my mother never took him shopping again.


Barb said...

My mom is a shopper, too... but also very thrifty. She thinks nothing of occasionally writing large checks to her kids (yay) but will wash and reuse Ziploc bags. :)

The story of Oldest Son's shopping adventure was hilarious. :)

Rambler said...

my mom is not that big a shopper, but one thing she really knows how to bargain :)

The Curmudgeon said...

Oh, no, Barb -- my mother never get rid of the Depression mentality entirely: We used to have to be very careful unwrapping our Christmas gifts... because my mother was going to reuse the paper.

Long Suffering Spouse has drawn the line on wrapping paper -- but she washes Ziploc bags too. Depending on what's been in them....

Inspiration Alley said...

My grandmother was the shopper. Your post reminded me very much of her. She had hoards of unused things when she died too.

Natalie said...

Oh that had me laughing!!! I would have been one of those moms saying a silent prayer of gratitude that that wasn't my child exploding. LOL!

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Loved the story of Oldest Son!

Misty DawnS said...

Ahahahaha - loved that story! My grandparents and my aunt raised me, and my aunt is a big shopper too. Whenever I get back from a day of shopping with her, I am completely wore out!

Shelby said...

Great story!!

Ellee Seymour said...

Yes, great story. My mother loves shopping too, but is becoming forgetful and cannot remember her credit card number and left her purse behind in a store yesterday. I do worry about her, but hope she will be able to enjoy many more shopping days.

Mother Jones RN said...

Wonderful story! I think your mom and I would have been great chums. There's nothing more relaxing than a day of shopping.


Patti said...

This is a wonderful story. My mother also has that Depression-era mentality and had tons of shoes. But the smoke damage has ruined them all, we've been told. We've yet to go through the mess, but I plan to urge her to throw nearly everything in the trash.

I'm wondering what Oldest Daughter was doing during the explosions of her brother.