Bargain shopping with Mom

If there’s one thing my mother and I have in common, it’s our love of a bargain. We like nothing better than getting a good deal, whether it’s at a clearance rack, a discount store or a yard sale. Oh, the stuff we find!

Mom has always been thrifty, in large part from necessity. She’s never had much money but has always managed to dress well and surround herself with beautiful things. She’s an artist—a gifted watercolorist—and has the artist’s eye for spotting the one great object in a pile of junk.

When I was a kid, she brought home a hideous black desk she got for $5 at the Salvation Army. My father raised his eyebrows. It looked like garbage—until Mom refinished it. There was solid mahogany under those many coats of paint, with book shelves on either side and a drawer in the center to hold pens and stamps. Mom made that desk a showpiece.

Mom was fortunate to live in Rhode Island, a utopia for bargain shopping. Whenever I went up for a weekend, our ritual was Ocean State Job Lot on Friday night and the Christmas Tree Shop—epicenter for unbelievably low-priced home decor—on Saturday. There were great discount clothing stores, too. I still have a Woolrich tweed jacket that I bought at one of them for $15.

Shopping was one of the things Mom missed when she moved to Milford. True, there are lovely gift and antiques shops here, and a Kmart and Walmart nearby. But the nearest mall is 20 miles away. There’s an Ocean State Job Lot an hour’s distance in Beacon, N.Y.—that seems to be as far west as the chain has ventured. And there’s a Christmas Tree Shop near Scranton, an hour in the opposite direction. That’s a haul for even a determined bargain hunter.

Catalogs filled the breach, along with yard sales, flea markets and the occasional country auction. In a pinch, there was always the Dollar Store.

Every Mother’s Day, Mom and I would meet my aunt and cousin at a friendly diner off I-84 in Connecticut, halfway between their home in Massachusetts and ours. After brunch, the four of us would go to the Christmas Tree Shop in Danbury—familiar turf for Mom. It was almost like being back home.

Now my mother lives in a retirement community, as they are discreetly called, near my brother in Ohio. There is plenty of shopping in Columbus, but Mom doesn’t have the stamina or interest anymore. She uses a walker or a wheelchair to get around, and recently she acquired oxygen. Going out is a logistical challenge.

I miss those Mother’s Day excursions. I miss my mother—the woman she is now and the woman she was, the feisty one who saw the potential in an ugly old, painted desk and turned it into something beautiful, with just elbow grease and a vision.

I have that desk in my house now. Thank you, Mom.

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