Coffee with Mimi: Shopping as more than an excursion 

By Mimi Becker
Contributing writer
My mother-in-law enjoyed shopping. She would make an occasion out of running simple errands. Often, lunch would be part of the agenda, and not a fast food drive-through experience. Shopping with her included discussions about the merits of a particular item, comparisons between choices and stories about why she liked certain specific products for just certain tasks. She would carefully feel the weight of the item or the texture of the fabric.

She generally left the daily purchasing to my father-in-law, preferring to pass on grocery excursions in favor of choosing new linens, for example. Her favorite shopping companion was her sister. As the years passed, unfortunately, both of the ladies became blind as a result of a hereditary condition. Her sister progressed much more slowly towards blindness, so while driving was not possible, shopping itself was.

Husbands, children and friends stepped in and outings continued. Thank goodness for malls. Louisville offered several worthy examples, which included dress shops, furniture stores, jewelry, gifts and cosmetics counters. The usual practice was for the ladies to be dropped off at the mall entrance around mid-morning and picked up at the same spot four or five hours later. Food courts were not quite in vogue yet. Malls had real restaurants. After a couple hours of pleasant strolling through the wings of the mall, maybe making a few purchases, the two sisters would settle themselves comfortably at a full service restaurant and while away the time over lunch on real plates, and perhaps a glass of wine.

When I became a member of the family, though I was teaching during much of the year, I was pressed into service to cover some of the shopping events with Mary Helen. When I had a day off from school, I would drop the child, or children, off at their regular daycare and pick up my mother-in-law for the rounds. Just the two of us.

Now, you have to understand that shopping for me is a chore. I do not enjoy driving hither and yon to find any particular thing. I do not enjoy shopping for clothing. Shopping for shoes is akin to torture. When my future husband and I became engaged, my future mother-in-law was so excited. I needed to go to various stores and register for wedding gifts. That sounded an awful lot like shopping to me. As time was drawing nigh to the actual wedding, the wedding registry issue became a point of pressing discussion.

Fine, I will go. Being the modern groom, my fiancé willingly agreed to join me on the excursion. I thought his mother made him go to make sure I did. I really had no idea what was in store for me. Most of my friends who had already married were either of like minds on the registry concept, or wisely kept their opinions to themselves.

At the time, there was a major department store in Louisville which offered everything household related. Being efficient entrepreneurs, they had the wedding registry process down to a fine science. A couple was met under the sign which indicated “Gift Registry.” A pleasant sales associate requested vital information concerning names, the impending nuptials date, addresses for every conceivable delivery option, parental connections, location of wedding, anticipated date of first born child (I made that one up) and disappeared into a back room.

We waited patiently. Shortly, she returned with several sheets of computer paper on a clipboard and invited us to follow her to the “table top” department. OK, this won’t be so bad. I had been living on my own for a number of years and the yard sale dishes were a bit shabby. What could it hurt to choose some new plates and cups for my new life? Mission accomplished.

Through the years, my mom and dad had gradually acquired a set of sterling silver flatware which was used at every dinner in the dining room. That’s OK. We can build our collection with a choice now and when our children look back on family dinners someday, they will remember setting the table with the special pieces.

We checked the boxes for plates, saucers, cups, forks, knives, spoons, some simple glassware, a tablecloth and matching napkins. I was feeling pretty comfortable with the choices and prepared to call it a job complete when the list waving woman launched into a whole series of questions pertaining to serving platters, salad servers, teapots and barware.

I could see there was no end in sight as the housewares department was, in fact, an entire floor of the city block sized building and she was determined to cover every nook and cranny as there was a category for each on her computer sheets.

What was worse, my fiancé seemed to be enjoying the whole experience. I was looking for a way to escape and he was asking what was next and had developed a rather chipper relationship with the pencil wielding, high heel wearing sales associate.

We worked our way through the cookware shelves. For a person who would become an adventuresome cook, I displayed a limited interest in gadgets associated with food preparation. My fiancé’s grandmother didn’t need a registry list. She always gave a set of stainless steel mixing bowls to family brides. I was perfectly satisfied with that.

The day wore on. By the time we reached the linen department, I had reached my limit. So, she says, what about towels? Yes, I agreed, they are a necessity. I am, after all, a clean person. I didn’t say that to her, but, I thought it. She had moved in for the kill. What color do I like? Blue. Which color blue? She inquired, waving her pencil at the bank of towels of, at least, six shades of blue.

That’s it. I’m done. Pick one and let’s go. If anyone wants to give us a set of towels, I will be thrilled and I will not care what shade of whatever color they are. Again, not said out loud.

They say you can predict some behaviors of a future spouse by observing their parents. Certainly, in my choice, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Thankfully, I didn’t let one excruciating shopping experience with my future husband get in the way of sharing many memorable experiences with my mother-in-law. Looking back, I learned a great deal about family while contemplating the relative merits of yellow versus white towels with the woman who raised my husband.