Shopping

An upcoming trip has forced me to buy new clothes. I headed ‘down below’ leaving narrow, twisty roads with no traffic and ending up on straight multi-lane freeways with bumper-to-bumper cars. I left trees for pavement, shade for hot direct sun, and little general stores for a mall. I left the few locals going about their day for crowds of people taking selfies.

For those who don’t know me, I hate shopping. It makes me grumpy. People overload, breathing in exhaust, too many things to choose between, too much stuff, too much money, all of it.

I especially detest clothes shopping.

So, there I was at the mercy of happy salesgirls. And as with all writers, the internal dialog was much more honest than the external.

‘Hi! How are you today!’

Leave me alone. ‘Fine, thanks.’

(I’m purposely using exclamation points instead of question marks because these girls are just so damn chipper.)

‘Can I help you find anything!’

If I want your help, I’ll ask. ‘No thanks.’

‘Great! Well, just so you know, we have these amazing ______ on sale today!’

Do I look like someone who would wear…I don’t even know what the heck that is. ‘Thanks.’

She used some phrase obviously meant to be a fashion statement that she assumed I’d know the meaning of. She was referring to these weird looking…pants I guess. Lacy, as wide as any bell-bottom pants I wore back in the 1970s. I thought at first it was a skirt. They were either a long skirt or too-short pants, coming a few inches above the ankle.

‘And we have a great sale on bras today that will make your girls happy!’

What girls? I’m alone. Then it dawns on me she means breasts. I have never referred to my breasts as girls. I just smile politely and continue pushing through hangers of weird pants.

Actually, a couple months ago I broke down and bought a new Viking breastplate at that store, after making my last one last several years. I think the bra will take my whole luggage weight limit of fifty pounds.

When I had a few things draped over my arm, she came back. ‘Shall I start a room for you, hon’!’

I’m not your ‘hon’. ‘I suppose.’

‘What’s your name, sweets! I’ll put it on a door for you!’

Well, it’s sure as hell not ‘sweets’.

And so it went. I restrained myself as much as possible, although a few remarks slid out anyway. Along the lines of, ‘no, I don’t want to apply for your store credit card, your company frankly sucks at customer service’.

But I survived, at the end sweaty, rumpled, cussing, and with a headache.

I hope those clothes last me until I take another big trip (which means years) because I refuse to do that torture again any time soon.

I headed home to sweet air and wind in the trees and happy dogs and a husband who’d made dinner.

And somehow, that weird pants/skirt thing made it into a bag and came home with me. I plan on taking it to work and showing them to the girls (actual girls, not breasts) so they can tell me what it is. I have a horrible feeling I bought something that’s supposed to be worn to bed rather than out in public.

Either way, the shopping is done for another decade.

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That’s her blurred guilty face as she just got caught with the cat’s food bowl.

A Crochet Basket

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Hmmm…the top one is lopsided, too.

That basket in the middle has had a long, busy life. It has sat with me in trucks and cars while waiting on many things. It has been my faithful companion during doctor appointments. It has sat at my feet during radiation treatments. It has visited family and friends. It has even been patiently forbearing while a kitten fished items out and sat in it.

It has carried thread and yarn and hooks. It has doubled as a purse and held keys and rocks and CPR supplies. This basket carried the thread for this tablecloth for the year it took me to make it. That’s still one of my favorite patterns.

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You might think that it’s starting to show its age. That it’s getting rather knocked around.

But here’s the thing. Other than the colors having slightly faded, it looks just like when I bought it.

There it sat on a shelf, in a fair trade store, lopsided and all alone. No one even bothered to give it a second glance.

Have you been to those fair trade craft stores? They have cards showing the women who make the crafts, full of smiles.

I felt sorry for that basket that no one wanted. I imagined the woman who made it, and the conversation whispered between her supervisors.

Inspector: ‘But it’s lopsided. No one will buy it.’

Supervisor: ‘Send it in any way. It will hurt her feelings if you don’t, and it’s her first basket.’

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Yes, I’m one of those who buys things because they feel sorry for them. Plants half-dead on back shelves. Baked goods with failed frosting designs. Lopsided baskets.

And I love my basket. It’s held up well with all the wear and tear.

I like to imagine the conversation now.

Inspector: ‘Can you believe someone bought that basket?’

Supervisor: ‘I know! What are we going to do now? She’s making them all that way!’

Every time I go back to that store I look for more. But they must now be quite popular because I’ve never been able to find another lopsided basket.

People must by buying them as soon as they show up.

 

An Independent Woman

I wrote about Claire on this blog, back in 2011, but that was more about her writing. Now I want to tell you about this woman, uniquely independent during a time when it was uncommon.

Claire

Look at those dimples, those eyebrows, those eyes. I loved her cheekbones, and even more, I loved the impishness of that smile. Even when I was young and she was elderly, I wanted to know the stories behind that smile, the secrets of a life obviously well lived. I wanted to know the joy the cheeky grin hinted at, the path she’d followed.

And yet, her joy in life was of a private sort, and shared with few.

In an age when women married young and lived subservient to their households, Claire didn’t.

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Oh, she started out traditionally enough, working as a secretary. But then those long legs of hers took her down a different path.

In the 1940s she traveled the world as a classic pianist.

In the 1950s she returned home to deal with the death of her mother in a house fire, and to take over the care of her aging grandparents. This was still somewhat traditional for the time period, as she was a ‘spinster’.

Claire, older

But things changed. She began to withdraw from the world, and to pull the shawl of privacy over her shoulders. She gathered homeless animals around her. She took in an abused horse, and built a barn for it by herself, living in the barn with the horse until she could build a house. A cat with a gangrenous leg that had to be removed. An old cow that could no longer give milk, with jutting hipbones, left on the side of the road. Dogs dumped in the woods that surrounded her home. She kept them all.

I knew her then (twelve dogs, numerous cats, an ancient horse, and a fat cow at that point). Mom would take us kids out to visit her in the woods, with all those animals and the old growth trees and an outhouse that scared my youngest sister. Or maybe it was the bear that visited regularly. Or the violent dog named Lummox, who had to be chained to a  tree when we visited. When Claire’s grandparents finally died, we thought she would move back out into the world. But instead she withdrew even more.

By the time I was in my twenties, and she was in her eighties, she no longer had a phone or a car, or any living relatives. I took over doing her grocery shopping for her, visiting once a week. It was her only contact with people. She chose the life of a hermit surrounded by her animals.

In an era where women were expected to raise a family, she lived alone. In an era where women were tentatively stepping into the work force, she stepped away.

You’d think, from what I just described, that she had maybe suffered some trauma. My mother thought Claire had been jilted at some point in the past, or possibly lost a fiancé in the war. I asked Claire that and she laughed her wonderful, free, musical laugh that I loved. No, she said, that’s just your mother trying to make me fit the stereotype. She said women weren’t allowed to be alone unless something awful happened. She said people thought a broken heart was the only reason a woman would be a hermit.

She said she just liked her own company. The woods. Her writing. Her beloved pets.

I have no photos of her from the time I knew her. But even in her eighties she was still tall and long-legged. The smile was still impish, still hinting at mischief. She wore heavy logging boots, jeans, a man’s flannel plaid shirt, and suspenders. She spent more time outside than in. She kept diaries, one of which I have. The one in which she wrote about the death of my father.

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Claire’s handwriting

She chose the life she wanted to live, and stayed true to that path. It wasn’t the expected path for women in her lifetime. But then, she always was an independent woman.