Monday, December 15, 2014

shopping for mama

i called my sister on my way home from work, checking in to see when the family would gather for their first Iowa Christmas in many years. For the past few years, she has shipped her Christmas to North Carolina, spending it with my parents or her in-laws, but always making time to see my brother and me. 

this year, her children will be home for the first year in many, with a toddler granddaughter to entertain them every single minute she's awake. and Pamula can't wait.

so i want to know the details. what she's cooking, what she's giving. if it will snow. when everybody's coming. 

i call, too, to make sure we have my mother covered. 

my father loved to find just the right gift for Mama, and when we were young, he included us in on the hunt. whether he'd already chosen what he planned to give her (or she had told him what to buy),we never knew. my sister and i felt like a team, helping to choose, too.

one year, he bought her an evening gown of black lace and gold lamé. i remember my sister trying it on in the small shop, Daddy saying that it would fit my mother perfectly (which it did.) remember watching the clerk wrapped it in a large, beautiful box — i had never seen anything so glamorous. we couldn't wait for her to open her beautiful gift. she wore it for years.

shopping trips with Daddy were filled with fun and love as i remember. no struggling with exactly what to get her, no arguing or whining about how we didn't get our way. we didn't get to spend a lot of time with our father as a rule, but shopping for Christmas for Mama took precedence over patients, if only once a year.

the Christmas after i graduated from college, my sister was living in Texas so I shopped with Daddy alone. he picked me up after work one December afternoon, and in the process of shopping for Mama, i told him i had not yet gotten a Christmas tree. (i could not afford one.)  so he drove me to the garden shop where my parents had bought their tree for years. i found a small live tree, bound in its root ball, and insisted i have it. (we could plant it in the yard at home!) so he bought it for me and brought it to my second floor apartment — he even bought me ornaments! and there, it promptly died.

(in later years, Daddy and i shopped and bought my family's tree, which he put in the stand and in the house before my husband could complain about having to! i can still picture him lying on my driveway, screwing the bolts in the tree to keep it straight.)

as he grew older, Daddy asked my sister and me to take turns with him to shop.when it was my turn, he'd drive to Raleigh and we'd take on the mall and the jewelry store together, searching for that perfect thing.

i remember well the year Daddy and i strolled through the old mall familiar since my childhood. i don't remember what we bought, but at lunch time, we sat in the food court, eating hot dogs and sharing fries from a place that no longer exists.

a few days later, a letter arrived in the mail, Daddy thanking me for helping him shop. i have searched my house in the past year or so for that letter and can't find it, though i remember his words: how he cherished spending time with me, even if it was as 'simple as sharing a hot dog in the middle of a crowded mall'... i will never forget those lines, or the image they still provoke. 

Christmas always brings such anxiety about the gift giving, but i never felt that with my father. to him, giving was never a chore, but was as much about the time spent shopping with his daughters as it was the gifts we bought. 

my sister has finished her shopping, though i have not. do we have perfume? will what we bought her fit? i ask her these things, thinking of how Daddy loved giving to Mama — to all of us — wishing again that he were here to help is find that perfect thing.


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