Sisterhood - FamilyEducation

Sisterhood

April 17,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

I was supposed to have a meeting today. A meeting I would have had to tear out of early at noon sharp, so I could race across town in time to pick up my daughter at 12:30. Then I was going to rush home to type up a post for today (subject matter still undetermined at that  point), since the Internet has been down almost all week at work. After that, I was going to race back downtown again to pick up L. at 2:30, then head over to my office to leave the two kids there with their babysitter while I sat in a meeting from 4:00 to 5:00. At 10:38, though, I discovered that my 11:00 meeting had been canceled. Suddenly, I found myself with an hour and 20 minutes of unplanned-for free time. I had a zillion things to do (and still do), but all of them required Internet connectivity, and there is little worse than having piles of work to do and no way to get it done. So instead, on an impulse, I decided to indulge in a little shopping therapy for myself, and I headed to my favorite thrift store downtown.

For me, shopping therapy is less about spending money, and more about the experience of shopping; the experience of walking to a small store, such as this thrift store, and having the chance to browse among the shelves of charming (and odd) knick-knacks. I like the people who shop at this store, and I like to listen to their conversations while I shop. Many of the customers are regulars--older women who joke and exclaim over their finds so loudly that you can't help but share their pleasure. The woman who works at the store is a kind and grandmotherly lady, who takes as much delight in what her customers find as the lucky customers themselves.

I don't often have the chance to shop without T. along. While she's a good shopper, there is something completely relaxing about having the chance to browse the racks of clothing without her playing hide and seek. I could spend time sorting through the mismatched china plates and cups without worrying that T. would grab one off the shelf and drop it. Yet even as I shopped, listening in to the banter around me, I felt lonely. In order for shopping therapy to be truly therapeutic, you must have a friend along--someone who will take as much delight in that $1 beaded picture frame as you do; someone who will truly appreciate what a find that $3 Banana Republic blouse is.

As I shopped, feeling melancholy and wondering why the shopping therapy wasn't doing more to lift my spirits, I noticed an elderly, stooped-over woman pulling along behind her one of those metal grocery baskets-on-wheels so many European shoppers use. My grandmother had one of those, and used to take it along with her to the farmer's market. Inside this woman's cart was her pocket book, two packs of cigarettes (!), and her shopping finds: a large-brimmed straw hat with a price tag dangling from it, and a small pillow with sleeping cats printed across the fabric. The pillow caught my eye, because the black and white cat in the center looked exactly like our poor cat. Feeling sad again (was this shopping therapy trip a wash?) I returned to my browsing. I was roused from my contemplation of a candlestick holder by the old lady, who was standing next to me. She leaned in conspiratorially and winked at me.

"Did you find some good things?" She asked me suddenly, nudging my arm.

"I did," I told her and then, impulsively, showed her my beaded frame and blouse.

She exclaimed accordingly and then showed me her own purchases, just as happily as if she were a teenager again, chatting with her best friend. We talked about how she could attach a ribbon to the straw hat and so tie it under her chin in windy weather. Then she pulled out the cat pillow. I told her, impulsively, about how that center cat--the black and white one--looked exactly like my own, and that she died this week.

To my surprise her eyes suddenly filled with tears. Her very own cat, it turned out, had passed away only earlier this month, at the very ripe old age of 19.

"I'm treating myself to a day out," she told me, squeezing my arm again.

And there we were, suddenly friends, she and I--bonded in a sisterhood of sorts over a faded cat pillow, a blouse, and a beaded picture frame.