I needed to do some grocery shopping recently. I’ve come to the realization that I have a better experience if I go later in the day. So, I tend to go at night…and not before a holiday if I can help it. So I’m at the store and I’m picking up some soda and some milk…looked for Twinkies with absolutely no success. And then I saw Southern Comfort flavored Egg Nog. “Mom’s favorite!” I thought. Since it was on sale, I grabbed two of them and went on my way. It wasn’t until I got home and was unloading my car that I realized…Mom can’t drink it.
She never will again.
I lost it. Right there on the back porch.
Much like I’m losing it right now.
Lonely, mournful, keening sobs that, quite frankly, frighten and confuse my cats.
Today is “Black Friday” – a day when people forget about “good will” and worry more about a good sale. Hey, I admit it…I’m a sucker for a good sale. I’ve done my share of Black Friday shopping in years past. I remember my first Black Friday in 1998 – just months after my mother was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (which she survived, by the way). She wanted a computer. It would be her first. Best Buy had one at a ridiculous sale price, so we decided that we would get there when the store opened. First, however, we’d planned to go to Kohl’s since it opened an hour earlier. When we got there the line was already forming at Best Buy. (This was before the days of needing to camp out 48 hours in advance to be the first 57,000 in line.) Determined to get Mom that computer, I told her we were going to stand in that line – doorbuster deals at Kohl’s be damned.
Mom and I were the 9th and 10th people in line. (These days, we probably could have sold those queue positions for $500 a piece.) We ended up making friends in that line. All of us shared our sales papers and discussed what we were there to get. We teamed up with some folks – we’d grab the scanner they wanted and they would grab the some other item we wanted. It worked out well. Since it was my first Black Friday experience, Mom gave me a crash course while standing in line: “You can’t browse, Carleen. This is not the time to stop and look at things. If you see something out of the corner of your eye, just grab it! We’ll figure it out later. You need to move quickly – but don’t be an asshole. No pushing and shoving!”
So we had a plan – I’d make sure to get to the back of the store to get her computer and she would seek out the scanners. Yes, we had a plan.
The doors opened and the folks in line began moving into the store. No pushing. No shoving. (I did see one woman get body blocked by a few people because she tried to walk into the store straight from the parking lot rather than getting in line…but she never hit the ground. Just prevented from entering. She got the hint and started walking to the end of the line.) I began a quick walk to the back of the store – grabbing a few movies on my way – all the while reciting a simple mantra: “Mom’s computer. Mom’s computer. Don’t be an asshole. Mom’s computer. Mom’s computer.”
I began to hear a sound – one that gradually got louder. It wasn’t quite a rumbling, but it could have become one. I looked over my shoulder to see where my mom was and that’s when I realized what the sound was…
People were beginning to run through the store!
“Holy shit! What do I do now?”
The wheels in my brain started turning faster. My heart began to pick up speed. My pace quickened.
Suddenly, something within me slowed down my brain and my heart. All Mom wanted that year – for her birthday and for Christmas – was a computer. She’d never asked me for anything before and she had asked me for this.
Dammit! Mom was going to get her computer!
I began to run as well.
While determined to be one of the lucky few to score that computer, I was still thinking, “What in the hell?!”
Making my way back to those computers, I saw the display for the scanners. Still at a dead run, I grabbed the box by its handle and held it over my head yelling, “Mom! Scanners!” I turned the corner at the computer department and looked back down the main aisle to make sure that Mom saw me and that she was okay.
You know what I saw?
My mother, holding her purse strap close to her chest, running down that aisle to keep me in her sights – she didn’t want to lose me in that store. We made eye contact and she yelled back, “Got it! Go! Be careful!”
I got Mom her computer (which had been helpfully pre-loaded into a stopping cart) and she met up with me a few minutes later. We stood in the very long line and waited our turn to pay for our purchases. Now was the time for meeting up with our “queue friends” and taking turns browsing through the store – all the while, not pushing or shoving or being an asshole, of course.
We were home by 8:30am.
The next year, we enlisted some family members to go with us. The night before, we looked through the sales papers and strategized. We made lists. I gave people assignments – one cousin’s sole purpose was to put his hands on a TV for Gram and stay there until it was time for us to check out). I drew floor plans of the store. We met at some God-awful time in the morning to get some breakfast at the nearby IHOP.
It was fun.
Now, before you all think that I’m some sort of materialistic moron who sees more value in saving $50 than in common human decency, let me repeat…It was fun. We had such a damned good time.
Let me also remind you of what my mother told me…Don’t be an asshole. We got through both years without pushing or shoving and always remembered to say “please,” “thank you,” and “pardon me.”
If we had gone into that store the second year – troops of cousins at the ready – and had walked out of that store without a single thing on our list, it still would have been worth it.
It. Was. Fun.
The strategizing the night before was filled with so much laughter. As was having breakfast and standing in the lines.
I didn’t grow up with my cousins. They were all here in Chicago and I was in California during our “formative” years. So this was some really fabulous bonding time with them. We got to know each other again. And, now, we have such great stories to tell their kids. In fact, while sitting at my Aunt’s house on Thanksgiving day this year, we were recounting some of these same stories with each other – and boy did we laugh.
Today, however, I can’t say that I did much laughing.
While Mom and I didn’t do the “God-awful hour of the morning” thing to go stand in lines anymore, we still went shopping every Black Friday. We’d sleep in – waking up when we woke up – and one of us would make breakfast. Then we’d get dressed and head to the stores. Usually, we’d get there around 9:00 or 9:30 – just about the time when all of those folks who’d camped out were taking their purchases to their cars.
It was our day. It was the day when I didn’t mind shopping. It was the day that Mom and I would do some productive Christmas shopping together. Did we get those fantastic deals that were only available at 5:00am when the store opened? No. But that didn’t matter. We were doing it together. We were having fun.
I tried to do some shopping today. I went to a few stores after the huge rush and I did buy some things. But it just wasn’t the same. Not by a long shot was it the same. I didn’t have Mom there with me to “approve” my purchases. I ‘d always ask her, “What do you think? Is this a good deal? Should I get it?” Mom being Mom would discuss it seriously with me – most often giving her okay. She’d do the same with me. We’d plan out gifts for family and friends…right there in the store.
(Writers often talk about being “pantsters or outliners” when it comes to their writing routines. I guess Mom and I were pantsters when it came to Christmas shopping.)
But that didn’t happen this year. It was just me. I had to figure it out for myself. And I didn’t have fun.
I cried after every store.