The day was a scorcher, but Mom knew what to do

Bargains: A vigorous day of shopping was her way to keep the heat at bay.

August 07, 1999|By JACQUES KELLY

ONE DEMORALIZINGLY hot summer morning my mother took hold of the push bar of a Value City shopping cart and stated unequivocally, "This is my therapy."

So it was. She loved to shop, from the old Filene's basement in Boston to the old Julius Garfinkel's on F Street in Washington. She covered them all, reserving a special passion for an item with the slash of a red pen through its price tag.

That day six years ago was a hell-fired scorcher.

It was a vacation day for me and I somehow had agreed to ride along on what was billed as a simple-and-sweet shopping excursion. My father's car arrived late. Mom explained she had to take a call from a cousin who needed cheering up. We arrived on the asphalt of the Harundale Mall just as it was about to turn into liquid tar.

Mom stepped out attired in white short shorts. When I dared question her fashion choice, she shot me an answer: on a day like this, she was merely being practical.

Her health was not that robust. She had suffered from diabetes for 30 years. The weather would have wilted an Olympic athlete of 20.

But as she stepped to the store's front door, she tossed her Lucky Strike cigarette butt into the bushes, grabbed a cart and darted off.

For the next 90 minutes, she rolled up and down the aisles like a prize winner on a spend-till- you-drop binge.

When her cart was overflowing, she blithely relinquished its handle to my father. She took a seat on a bench, handed him the necessary cash, and ordered him to take his place in the check-out line.

We stopped for a short lunch break of hot dogs in the mall, and I mistakenly thought we might return home. Wrong. Mom pulled a stack of grocery store coupons from her purse and issued the next order: Off to Mars Market on Ritchie Highway, now that were were safely in the triple-digit temperature range.

Now completely defeated, I surrendered. I took the coupons in hand and went in search of the 15.75-ounce cans that met the specific redemption demands of the little slips of paper.

It was now nearing rush hour as we headed north along Ritchie. It would have been sensible to duck the traffic and get home. It was not to be. We were coming into the city when Mom got a second wind and issued one last directive: head for the Hollins Market. She needed some soft crabs -- not for herself, but to give away to friends.

A side trip to the fishy-smelling side of the Hollins Market in Southwest Baltimore was just what I wanted as the temperature crested at 101 degrees.

Anyway, I think my mother also picked up some lamb kidneys and tripe -- not exactly my idea of summertime fare in old Baltimore. As my eyes grew wide, she told me to get out of her way.

Finally, I was deposited back on my St. Paul Street sidewalk. I gathered my bags, dragged myself in the house, went upstairs, took two Tylenol tablets and a long cool bath. I had a headache and was totally exhausted. Mom later told me how much she'd enjoyed her idea of a perfect day.

As it turned out, this was my very last shopping trip with her. A few weeks later, she suffered a heart attack and died at Johns Hopkins. She was 75 and, as evidenced that day, could summon energy to the end.

Pub Date: 8/07/99

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