I am a rare woman: I hate to shop. I have never liked to shop. I was blessed with a daughter who also hates to shop. We could knock off any necessary expedition in no time. Two stores, one hour, and we were both exhausted and either bought something or gave it up by mutual consent.
Not so Mama. She is a 98-year-old clothes horse. And her closets and drawers hold pretty much every purchase she ever made. She bought “well-made” clothes from places like Frederick & Nelson (Seattle’s now defunct subsidiary of Chicago’s Marshall Field’s, also defunct). Think Frango Mints, the Paul Bunyon Room, and animated windows at Christmas; my favorite features. “They just don’t make clothes like they used to. They don’t last,” she told me the other day, for the 4 millionth time. “No one can afford them,” I pointed out. “Plus, no one cares if clothes last 40 years. And what’s more, they can’t afford houses with enough closet space to hold them all.” “True,” she said.
She’s been on the hunt this fall for shoes, a warm jacket, and a sweater to replace the Icelandic knit that fell apart winter before last. She brings stuff home to live with for a while then takes some or all of it back. She finally decided on a pair of shoes—of the six pairs she brought home—two weeks ago, but continues to wear her old ones. We went for a walk at the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge yesterday, and she didn’t wear her new shoes. Apparently the old ones are good enough. I didn’t ask why she got new ones; she can’t answer why questions.
Michelle, her morning care partner, took her jacket shopping, then I went with her to see what I thought. She tried on three styles, three sizes of each, much discussion of the various colors and hats she owned that might go with each. She bought one. She returned it two days later. It wasn’t warm enough.
Yesterday, before our walk, we went to REI. It’s needs to be water resistant, although she no longer walks in the rain—too dark. It needs to be big enough to wear over two sweaters; but then it’s too big if she doesn’t need two sweaters. And, of course, the sleeves are too long. She got a down jacket that I am sure is warm with new-fangled materials, but because it’s not weighty I am quite sure I will be returning it next time I go to Olympia. She wore her older fleece on our walk, and was almost too warm (and it is hard for her to concede that). Again, I don’t know why she needed a new one. We also looked at sweaters, but they were “too expensive.”
Today Michelle took her to the Outlet Mall to look at sweaters. She came home with one, along with a pair of wool pants (if they aren’t wool, they aren’t well-made). She refuses to have pants custom made because she doesn’t want to pay for it. But every year we all engage with her in the search and failure to find a pair of pants that fit her very odd specifications.
The sweater is not at all what she was looking for. It isn’t warm, and it doesn’t close in the front, except for two hooks.
“I thought it would look dressy with black pants,” she said.
“It would,” I agreed. Should I ask if she needs another something dressy? (Doesn’t she have twenty dressy outfits to wear places she doesn’t go?) No, I should not ask. Of course I did anyway.
“I wonder if I have a hat that matches?” she said in reply.
“It’s blue and black,” I said. “You have a blue and black wool hat.”
“But is it the right blue,” she said, more of a statement than a question. “Is it a summer sweater, or a winter one?” she asked.
“It’s winter colors and summer weight,” I said, trying to answer her questions without the commentary in my head; pretending I was a witness in a trial. It was beginning to be a trial.
I was at lunch with a friend when Mama called to tell me about the sweaters and the pants and to ask if I could take her back to the Pendleton store to look at another sweater she hadn’t gotten, when I got home. Two days in a row? Are you kidding me? We went.
She tried on one with stripes. “I don’t know if I look good in stripes,” she said.
“It looks nice on you,” I said. “But what do you want it for? This is more like a jacket and I thought you wanted something warm and cozy for in the house.”
“That’s right,” she said. She tried on a burgundy cardigan; the sales woman pointed out the mirror. “I can’t see it,” Mama told her.
“Well, how does it feel?” I asked.
“I never liked red,” she said.
“You can’t see it anyway,” I countered. “What matters is how it feels.” She took it off.
I felt amazingly patient. She likes to shop. She likes to buy stuff she used to need. She doesn’t like to spend money, but she is very good at it when it comes to clothes. And if she returns it all, it doesn’t cost anything anyway. I will get my reward; there will be no shopping in my heaven.
Then I found a wool! cardigan she hadn’t been shown this morning. Zippered. Pockets. Even had an Icelandic type design. Seemed just about right to me. She decided to get it. As the sales woman put it in the bag, Mama said, “I can return it, can’t I?”