A Penny for your Thoughts


My mother and I were Olympic-grade shoppers.  Soon after I took my first steps on my own, she deemed me her shopping buddy and took me to every department store reachable by bus or subway.  It was her happy place.

Struggling to make ends meet, plagued by thoughts of her unloving father, her dislike and distaste for her in-laws all melted away among the racks of clothing; free to gaze at and no charge to touch.  It was probably how my love for shopping began; with a mother who was at peace just looking at the latest spring styles.  So, it isn’t surprising that any day at Nordstrom Rack or TJ Maxx is when I miss her the most.  What is unusual is we can still talk together while I shop even with her dead three years.

With another birthday looming, my yearning for her grew heavy.  Mom and I were so in sync; we stayed side by side in co-joined consumerism.  Now, without her, I prefer friends who seek out their bargains and find me only when they’re tired or hungry.  Happily my friend Hala feels the same way.  As quickly as I could text “DSW Sale”, she joined me for a shoe event neither of us needed nor could afford.  We split up in search of our personal sizes before the sliding doors closed behind us.

I hit the clearance rack, checking out every (emphasis on every) pair from size 8 to 9 ½.  I’m not reluctant to buy big size boots that I’ll fill with thick socks if the price is right.  I should stop here to explain that my love of shopping includes the thrill of the hunt.  I have no interest in the world’s most beautiful dress if it hasn’t been marked down three times with an extra 25% off this week only.  Mom was not like me at all.  She didn’t consider a price tag when making selections.  It’s hard to believe she was the same woman who pilfered sweeteners from restaurants.  Maybe what she saved on Sweet & Low packets helped her pay full price.

For me, there’s no retail-high without a fabulous bargain.  I floated through discounted boots and cheap kitten heels.  I meandered where the spike heels lived and strolled among the sandals.  Nothing was pretty or cheap enough to try on.  Don’t get me wrong, I won’t cry if I leave a store empty-handed, but I won’t like it either.  I’m sure my face showed my disappointment and I guess that’s why my mother’s voice called to me from a display of espadrilles.  “A penny for your thoughts.”

I heard her as clearly as if the years had melted away and we were once again shopping buddies out for a day of fun and lunch.  Now, before you think, I answered my dead mother aloud, take that thought right out of your head.  I may be crazy enough to hear my Mom, but not certifiable enough for other people to hear me talking to myself.  I answered her in my mind.  “It’s been an awful winter, Mom.  I have in-law problems and I worry about money.  I can’t make everybody happy and growing older is scaring the heck out of me.”  Just as in life, she had no answers for me.  Instead, I found myself soul to sole with a fabulous pair of Franco Sarto platform sandals marked 80% off.

Surely this was mismarked, but what the heck, I took the box to the cash register.  “Is this really the right mark-down?” I asked the smiling sales assistant.  She assured me it was.  I took out my wallet and told her my account number. 

“You have an additional ten dollars off.  Your shoes are free.”  Her smile broadened.  A swell of happy voices rose up behind me.  The line of shoppers became a sea of congratulators.  I nodded in queenly largess to my sister bargain hunters and headed out to find Hala.

“My shoes were free!” I waved the receipt as proof.  After Hala and I happy-danced, she read the receipt.  “Look,” she pointed to the numbers.  “The total is really one cent.  They didn’t charge you the penny.” 

Call it a pre-birthday miracle.  Say it’s just coincidence.  But I know my mom had made good on her promise—A penny for your thoughts.