Mom grew up during the Depression, which means that things pretty much have to disintegrate into their component molecules before she’ll think about replacing them. She works outside a lot and lives in Montana, so once I got her a nice warm Eddie Bauer parka. She thanked me profusely and always commented on what a nice gift it was, but I never saw her wear it. The thing is, she already had a perfectly good coat. Maybe it was slightly frayed or patched here and there, but it had years of use left in it and you can’t just quit wearing a perfectly good coat. Especially one that probably, by then, seemed like a trusted friend.
I stayed with her a few days last summer. She has a few dishcloths you can practically see through, but I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t use a new set. What would she do with the old ones, still quite serviceable despite being permanently stained and bit translucent? Throw them out? You don’t know my Mom. She learned early in life that you don’t waste things, and she’s not about to start now. This is why I avoid looking too long into her refrigerator when I’m there. Those sell-by dates? To her, they don’t mean a thing.
Every year she tells all of us — in a gentle but pleading way — not to buy her anything, and every year we disobey. Because you can’t just let Christmas pass without getting your mother a gift, can you? That would be setting a terrible precedent. It would be like opting for an artificial tree over a real one. Once you do that, you never go back to the genuine article. And finally you forget the true aroma of evergreens.
So here I am online, acutely aware that the window for pre-Christmas delivery is closing fast. I know a large part of the U.S. economy depends on just this sort of desperate guilt, this feeling that love is adequately expressed by sending people useless goods they didn’t ask for and don’t want. And no matter what I choose, I know I’ll regret it for its insignificance. But that’s how we roll, here in America. At least I’m not considering a gift card.