One of the most disastrous experiences in my life was shopping with Mother. When my sister Lindy and I were young, Mother would take us to a department store and find underwear that might be our size. She would call us over and in public hold up the panties to our bodies to guess if they would fit. She was oblivious to all people around her–including our friends.
Later, we graduated to going to Newman’s where a Mrs. Lombardi fitted young women for bras. No wonder Mother loved Mrs. Lombardi: she operated on the exact same system that Mother did. You would have just undressed in the curtained fitting room, and Mrs. Lombardi would burst in, throwing the curtain open completely. Lindy and I dreaded going to Newman’s to be fitted for a new bra, and when we said something to Mother, she would reply
Stop being so self-conscious.
After shopping for hours, and buying very little, Mary was ready for a cold drink. Off to Walgreen’s we went to sit in the mezzanine and sip iced tea. Once in a while, we were allowed to eat lunch there and we ordered our favorite barbeque sandwiches which Mother always insisted she could have made better, much better.
Most days, if we were going to eat lunch downtown, we made our way to the little joint called The Wayside Inn. The food was greasy and the tables were close together, but we were happy we weren’t eating at home.
When I got into junior high, Mother and I would look for special occasion dresses. I would find exactly what I wanted, but no we could not purchase that. Mother would insist that we keep looking. After looking for hours, we would return to the original dress and buy it. Somehow, after all the hours of arguing with Mother, the new dress always seemed like a let-down.
Remember, Mother did not change her personality just because she was out in public. If anything, she became worse. If you dared to disagree with her, she would pause and begin throwing one of her fits. She would yell
I have sacrificed my whole life for you.
and begin to sob mournfully. People would turn around to see who the ungrateful brats were–and there Lindy and I would be. It was pretty embarrassing.
Once Mother moved to Iowa, she wanted to go out and shop. Since my attitude was always optimistic, I would think taking her out was a good idea. Usually she and I were birthday or Christmas shopping for Lindy. Mother would say that she really wanted to buy Lindy something nice to thank her for all her help getting groceries, cleaning, and taking Mother to appointments.
When we got to the lovely items, Mother started to hesitate. It turned out that she did not plan to spend that amount of money on Lindy. She always suggested some inexpensive small item when it came time to shop for anyone else. It turned out she was a big talker and never put her money where her mouth was—unless to it was to buy something for herself!