28 February 2009

The Champ

This was written in June 1998 and broadcast as a commentary for KUNI Iowa Public Radio.  My drawing is of my mother Betty Milner, the champ. "Betty, at the Walker 1980" is pen and ink.  I recently found it in her files.

My shirt? You like it?  I got it half price.  My shoes?  Oh, they're new.  I got them on sale.  I learned this from my mother--to get stuff for cheap.  Full price is for spineless creatures without grit.  Good stuff is cheap stuff.

As a child, I traipsed behind my mother through discount stores searching through piles of disheveled merchandise.  We also shopped high-end department stores in the adjoining suburb. We'd walk determinedly past the tantalizingly displayed full price goods to the jammed sale racks in the back.  My mother perused the goods with a keen eye.  If an aberration in quality was detected--an undone seam, unmatched plaid, or unsymmetrical lapels, my mother would let loose her practiced indignation on the closest salesperson, making a jab for an even lower price.  Nailing a deal was triumph.

While my mother's shopping stamina was astounding, her indecisiveness was painful.  Once home, she brooded over the rightness of her purchase, at times continuing to search for a like item at other stores to convince herself that she had the cheapest of the best.  We stood on what seemed like endless return lines.  Even though she had post-graduate training and a professional career before she became a full-time homemaker, her value and competency as my father's helpmate seemed hinged on her shopping prowess.  The money she saved was the prize. Her quest for the quintessential bargain was insatiable.

When I visited my then 78-year-old out-east, we hadn't shopped together for two decades.  My time was limited.  I was willing to do the unthinkable: pay full price.  At the cashier, my mother looked pained.  The woman ahead of us had presented a coupon that entitled her to 10% off.  Before I knew it, my mother pulled one of her legendary punches, finagling the same 10% off for me--without the coupon!  I left the store with the clothes I needed and a discount I was ambivalent about.  My mother left like a champ leaving the ring.