Memory of a Sale
by Melba Christie
It was a crisp and sunny day in October. Columbus Day to be exact and she had the day off because her boss was a native Italian from Genoa and he had made it a tradition to close the small men’s clothing factory where my mother worked for twenty years. I was off from school and mom wanted to get in on the Columbus Day sales at her favorite department stores Alexander’s and Hearn’s. This shopping spree of sorts had become a ritual and I looked forward to getting a new pleaded skirt and maybe a new pair of shoes. Barely a month shy from my birthday my mom would be able to afford an additional gift for me if the price was right.
We started out early in comfortable flats. We would arrive in time to actually stand in line for an hour along with a few hundred other shoppers ready to race into the store. Mom planned the trajectory for the stores we would visit and strategized for getting to the right store at the precise time. She scheduled the first store based upon how many bargains she could get in one stop. Factored into her plan was the original prices of items and how truly discounted they actually turned out to be. She was astute and knew that many times prices inflated a few days before the big sales day and then was suddenly reduced to 50 or 75 percent from the original price. Her shopping afforded no luxuries. The budget was slim and she was disciplined enough to buy only what was needed. Dad had passed away a year earlier so we needed to be careful not to go over. Mom always bragged about how she learned to be a great accountant without having stepped a foot into college. She had survived the Depression and knew that every penny counted. Widowed twice and left with very little resources taught her many lessons about managing her money and economics in general. I still cannot imagine how she ever survived those hard times. People complain about our economic woes today; well my mom could have been a consultant.
That one day though she had secretly planned to visit another store. I managed to talk her into getting me a new pocket book and I couldn’t wait to get home to stuff it with things. But as usual we stopped to eat at Nathan’s. She loved their fries. I loved their hot dogs. After lunch she detoured from our usual route and nonchalantly announced that she wanted to go into the furniture store and ask about the French provincial chair and sofa that was on display. As we walked into the fancy store I wanted to remind her that we could not afford any of the furniture. I thought she had lost her mind. But I remained quiet because I knew that once she had made up her mind about something there was no changing it.
She walked straight to the golden brocaded sofa. Her hand caressed the fabric and for the first time in many months I saw her smile again. A few minutes of silence ensued and she proceeded to sit on the edge of the sofa slowing sliding her body onto the back of the sofa. A soft sigh slipped out and she asked me if I liked the sofa. It really was not the type of thing I could fully appraise at the time. I was barely fourteen but I could tell she was in love with it. My brain did not realize that I had started talking and I heard myself saying, “I love it mom.” Another smile adorned her face and I say this because when my mom smiled (which was very rare) it seemed that the whole world was waiting for it.
The salesman walked over. I had caught him watching my mom’s every move from a few feet away. He was going for the kill. He knew that an affair had begun and that a sales pitch would not be required this time. My mom was smart. She had done her homework. She was determined to get the sofa and the chair for the lowest price possible. Little did the salesman realize he was up for a trading battle. I watched as she masterfully haggled down the manufacturer’s suggested retail price to two hundred dollars less. She filled out some forms and the next thing I know is that they were arranging the delivery date. It ended up being what would have been her wedding anniversary. The whole thing was bitter sweet. The day it arrived she did not sit on any of the pieces. She sat in my dad’s old raggedy arm chair and stared at it. Come to think of it she never sat on the sofa. However, she loved it when company sat comfortably on it. She sat on the green brocaded French provincial chair. She’d come home and sat on it like one of the women chosen queen on the daytime show. It was in that chair that my son was first introduced to famous children’s stories from her native Puerto Rico. I sat on it only a few times. Most times I just squeezed in beside her side during those very special mother daughter moments. I finally gave it away one day years after she died. It remains very vivid in my mind though. It was a chair most definitely fit for a queen.
- 14 Columbus Day facts that are 92 percent true (utsandiego.com)