My mother saves money. She was born in 1928, the year before the Great Stock Market Crash. So her young formative years were taken up by the Great Depression and then the shortages and rationing of World War II. So she saves money. Compulsively. Obsessively. She has a more-than-comfortable income, but she yelled at me the other day for buying a bottle of that fancy balsamic vinegar for cooking when there is a gallon of white vinegar in the cupboard already.
When I started college, I shared an apartment with five other girls. I had twice as many clothes in my closet as any of the other girls. But every outfit was wrong in one way or another. Most were colors that made me look like a corpse before they slapped on the cosmetics. And they tended to fit poorly. And they were mostly cheaply made to begin with. My mother would not dream of buying any piece of clothing that was not on sale. And sorry, those wimpy 10 or 15 or 25 percent off sales would not do either. Those aren’t real bargains. Like a junky who needs ever greater hits to get the same buzz, Mother needs ever-deeper discounts on the things she buys to get her buzz. It’s the 75 percent off rack for my mom. And don’t dream of asking her for money to buy my own clothes. She loves to shop, and I might not spend my money wisely - i.e. on bargains.
I wouldn’t dream of telling her that last summer when my dog got sick I laid out over $500 to save her life. My mother would never have paid that amount of money on vet bills for a dog - after all, you can get a new one for free just by looking in the classifieds.
I like to wear SAS shoes. They look like granny shoes, you tell me. Yes, well, I am a granny now, and my feet hurt. I’ve never found a brand of shoes that are more comfortable for me. The problem is, they run over $80 a pair. Mother came to my rescue. She found some shoes that looked “just like SAS” shoes in a dollar store. She bought them just for me. I was supposed to be grateful. The fact that they clearly looked like cheap imitations didn’t matter. The fact that they were not comfortable didn’t matter. The only thing important is that they were a bargain.
I started to write this as an amusing account of one of my mother’s quirks - her habit of pinching pennies and wasting thousands. But as I wrote, the anger began to show more and more clearly.
My first impulse is to deny it. No, no. I’m not REALLY angry. I’m just painting an amusing word-picture of my mother. But I still hear the anger. And I am angry at myself for being angry at my mother. But maybe the anger is still there because I’ve been denying it for so long. My mother has overcome great problems with great courage. There’s no denying that.
So it would be wrong to criticize her.
Mother’s mother was schizophrenic. She has mentioned how when she was only five her mother would tell her about the angels and demons that had visited in the night, and how she believed these stories and how they frightened her. And how angry she was herself when she became old enough to understand that they were only her mother’s delusions.
And mother had polio when she was only five years old. She tells of being in the hospital with her lungs filling up with fluid. And the doctor would come in with this huge needle which he would shove all the way into her lungs to drain off the fluid. The doctor told her that he would give her a silver dollar (a day’s wages for a man in 1933) if she let him do this without screaming and fighting. One day she counted, and she had 20 silver dollars under her pillow.
When mother hit puberty, her spine began to bend in the way it shouldn’t. Scoliosis, they call it. For many years she was told that it was the result of the polio. But now they say no, it is genetic, it runs in our family - she just got a really bad dose of it. She had a painful operation and wore a full body cast for a year. It didn’t work. A few years ago her orthopedic specialist told her she had the worst scoliosis he had ever seen. So she has this misshapen body and pain.
Despite this she gave birth to eight children, raised seven of them on a school teacher’s salary. Most of her children are college graduates, none has ever gone to jail or had a drug problem. All but one have married and only one divorced. They have all worked hard and been contributing members of society.
Everyone agrees that my mother is a paragon.
But she isn’t perfect. She is a steamroller. A kind, generous, intelligent steamroller, but a steamroller nevertheless. Standing up and saying I refuse to be steamrollered takes a lot of energy. Sometimes it’s easier just to let her roll over you.
Always it’s easier to let her roll over you.
They say that depression is anger turned inward. Maybe that’s part of why I’ve been depressed so much of my life. There is all this anger toward my mother which is unacceptable. So I turn it on myself.
Oh, and about the money saving. How much has she saved? None. Though she is always hunting for bargains, if she has a dollar it burns a hole in her pocket. She can’t stand to have money in the bank. She can always find someone who needs a thousand here or a thousand there. Or she buys more furniture and gives away the old. Or she pays for upkeep on a motorhome she has not used in five years but will not sell. Or she buys dozens of world globes that are on sale because the world map has changed. (They sit in the garage which is full of other unused bargains because she can’t find anybody who wants them.) It’s very amusing.