Years ago, I worked in a department store. Bed and bath department. A doorway opened to the parking lot. An archway linked us to the men’s department. One day, my co-workers and I heard a frantic kerfuffle in the men’s department. “What’s going on over there?” we tittered among ourselves, straining our necks, forbidden to leave Bed & Bath before our breaks.
Minutes later, an ambulance crew burst through the door with a gurney and oxygen and medical supplies, flying toward the men’s department.
Before long, the same crew ambled back through our department, wheeling a covered body out the parking lot door.
“What happened?” I asked a colleague from the men’s department who was standing agog in the archway.
“A lady just dropped dead on our floor,” he said, stunned. “She was shopping with her family. She … just collapsed. When the paramedics arrived, she was dead.”
“You won’t believe what happened at work today!” I told my mom that night on the phone. “A lady dropped dead shopping in the men’s department!”
“Really? Wow! That’s exactly how I want to go!” she quipped. “I want to shop ‘til I drop!”
“Mom, I’m not kidding! This lady collapsed on the floor of the men’s department and died! She was shopping with her family! It’s not funny!”
“Oh, I’m serious,” Mom replied. “I think that’s a great way to go. Enjoy life with your family right up to the last minute. I can’t think of a better way to die!”
Then I realized … yeah, she was serious.
If there was an intergalactic shopping championship of the universe, my mom would nail it in seconds flat.
She wasn’t a shopaholic in the sense of “Must have! Must buy! Must overspend!” Shopping was just a hobby and a joy to her, and she was damn good at it. She could smell a bargain at 10,000 paces, but she didn’t need money to shop. She was happy just to browse and try on and oooh and ahhh – even to window shop.
Once, she bought a case of Renuzit air freshener from Big Lots for 10 cents a can. Some wiseguy packaging designer arranged a penis among the flowers on the can, and she overheard the Big Lots staff giggling about it as they pulled the cans off the shelves.
She persuaded them to sell her 24 cans. Then she gleefully gave cans of “Penis Renuzit” to her nearest and dearest friends and family.
She really did want to shop ‘til she dropped, surrounded by the people she loved.
Only half her wish came true. Leukemia got her before the mall did. Today is her birthday, and it would have been a big one – ya know, one of those major benchmark ages that ends with a five or a zero.
I went to visit her in a place far more bucolic than I’m sure she’d secretly choose for her final resting place. I think she’d rather spend eternity in a place surrounded by art or fashion or children.
But I have to believe that she’s busy celebrating in that big Skymall, with our beloved long-gone pets devotedly tailing her as she tries on St. John knits “just to see how they fit” and honing her radar in on great deals to share with family, friends and charities. I think her birthday party is at a place where she can shop and shop and never drop.
Happy birthday, Mom. ☮