My mother and I used to go shopping in a typical mother-daughter sort of way. But, if you ever saw us weaving in and out of the stores, we looked anything but typical.
Neither of us ever dressed the part of avid shopper. My mom was usually wearing a pair of old Levis and sneakers, and I too was in jeans, along with a weathered fleece jacket. Instead of sneakers, I always wore a pair of slip-on shoes to make it easier – and faster — to try on clothes. Our shopping attire would sometimes work against us though, because two sloppy looking shoppers never garnered much attention at the high-end shops. But, we had fun surprising the salespeople when we’d plop down a bunch of merchandise at the register. My mom always labeled these days as our contribution to “restore the economy.”
We always strategized before our shopping trips. First, we planned out which location we’d conquer. Sometimes we’d head to the outlet stores an hour north of my house. Other times, we’d stay more local and go to the mall or visit one of the neighboring towns that had a high density of clothing and shoe stores. Then, we sensibly timed our outing so that I’d be back in time to pick up my kids from school.
My mother and I always looked forward to our shopping sprees, but inevitably the spree became more about what we could buy me, rather than both of us buying items together. Sure, my mother would purchase a few things for herself or at least try to, but I could tell she found it way more enjoyable to help select and subsequently pay for my clothes, possibly because I was a stay-at-home mom who solely relied on her husband’s income. My mother and father both worked full-time and they always kept separate bank accounts. I knew my mother found it difficult to think of me so dependent on my husband, even though he hardly ever gave me a hard time about spending too much money.
In some ways, it was odd that my mother and I enjoyed shopping together so much because we had very different tastes in clothing styles. I did my best to keep up with trends, while my mother never ventured far from her affinity for Eileen Fisher, aka baggy chic. We’d try to help each other pick out clothes we thought the other would like, but this rarely worked. I’d make frowny faces at the frilly shirts she’d suggest for me and in turn, she’d think I was joking if I even pointed to a pair of Steve Madden shoes for her. Still, we’d try on clothes and ask each other for opinions, knowing full well it may not have appealed to one another.
Our favorite part of the day was always lunch. If we were at the mall or the outlets, there was never any question we were going to dine at Nathans for a hot dog and fries. We didn’t need or want a fancy lunch. For us, it was all about taking the time to talk about anything and everything, but also resting our feet before going back for round two in the stores.
We both knew the shopping was less about the actual shopping and much more about spending the day together. The clothes we bought were simply a bonus.
But then my mother became ill. Open heart surgery. Then cancer. Enduring two major surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation, my mother rallied like a warrior. And we still managed to keep our shopping dates, although sometimes we shopped at a slower pace. I suppose we both needed to continue this tradition to prove that she would be okay. And she was, for a few years. Until she wasn’t. Our shopping days came to an end when my mother passed away at the age of 75.
The first time I went shopping for clothes without her, I entered a store in which we had once bought dresses together. I quickly scanned the racks, but couldn’t bring myself to buy anything without her. It wasn’t nearly as much fun. And I missed her, a lot.
A few months later, I took my son to a basketball skills clinic, which happened to be very close to the outlets my mom and I used to frequent. With three hours to kill, I had no choice but to walk around the familiar stores. I still disliked shopping without my mother, but my clothes were looking ratty and outdated and I couldn’t not shop forever. So, I followed the same route we always did and visited all our favorite stores.
I can’t recall if I bought anything, but I felt off-balance while there. She was missing — my beloved shopping partner — and I wondered if I’d ever enjoy shopping for clothes again. I kept checking my watch, wanting the time to pass so I could leave and pick up my son from his clinic.
Eventually, I surrendered to hunger and wandered toward the food court. I knew I couldn’t leave without eating at Nathans. I ate a hot dog and fries to honor my mother, but it didn’t taste nearly as good as it used to.