Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Thrift Shop - we really don't need your sympathy

When I was a kid, I had no idea what a thrift shop was. There was no Goodwill or Salvation Army or Savers. At least, not that I was aware of. Wearing used clothing was not a thing we did.

Sure, there would be a few forays into Grandmother's vintage, but shopping happened at small boutiques or T.J. Maxx. Everything we wore as kids was new. Everything.

My kids, on the other hand, are dressed almost exclusively at Savers.

I buy them new shoes, and they get new lunchboxes and backpacks, and my mother sends them brand new gorgeous clothes (thanks, Mom)  but aside from an occasional foray into Old Navy, we shop at Savers and Goodwill. There are a few reasons for this. The first is that we live on an island with pretty limited options in terms of shopping - which means 3-4 kids might show up in the same t-shirt on any given day. Savers has - if nothing else - plenty of variety.  The second reason is that kids grow fast, and what they don't grow out of they destroy in short order. This phenomenon makes thrift stores a double bonus: stuff is cheaper so I don't freak out if they tear it to shreds or stain it after one wearing. And some of it is still brand new because someone else's kids outgrew it before they could wear it.
Gotta love a cart full of New-With-Tags at the thrift store.

There's the thrill of the hunt, the fist pump of victory, and the 25% off on Monday sales to keep things interesting. Nothing is more than $10, so almost every purchase is satisfying. I just don't get that thrill at Macy's.

I went over to Savers recently because we are heading off to the mainland this fall, and it will be cold by the time we get there. Living in paradise means that kids don't have a whole lot in the way of winter clothes, so I needed to get the kids coats and a few long-sleeve shirts that would actually cover their wrists. I found all that I was looking for, plus a few bonus items that I was about to go buy new at the mall. I was flying pretty high on my bargains. When I got in line, a woman walked up behind me and I glanced over at her. I knew her. She knew me. I smiled, said hi, and was just about to strike up a conversation when I caught her glancing at my cart. Her mouth opened, then closed. She was holding a Halloween costume. And as I watched her look away, I realized something: she was embarrassed. Not embarrassed to be seen in Savers, hell everyone gets their Halloween costumes there. No, she was embarrassed because I had a cart full of clothes. Clothes that I was planning to wear, and dress my children in.

And not just for Halloween.

The Horror.

The flush began to creep over my ears. This was very similar to the feeling I get when I am standing in line to redeem my WIC checks for Ella's formula. I felt judged. I was embarrassed at her embarrassment. I was embarrassed to have an incredibly ugly blanket right on top of my cart, which I was going to use for the dog house because my damn dog keeps destroying the beds I buy him. I wanted to say "No, wait, the blanket is for the dog!" so she would at least know that I wasn't planning to use it for my own bed.

I mean, can you imagine.

And as the embarrassment grew to mild panic and I started making up excuses in my head, I remembered something:

I fucking love Savers.

Underneath that gross blanket, was at least $300 worth of clothes if I had been buying them new.

My total was $28. Including the disgusting blanket. I had three brand new items with the tags still attached, 2 winter coats that might have been worn once or twice, jeans for Max that were perfectly broken in already, a bag of bibs, a hat and 2 sweaters for Ella, a killer puffy vest with a detachable furry-lined hood for Lucy, 8 baby toys that were in pristine condition, and a like-new cat carrier because our cat ate the cardboard one we got at the shelter when we adopted him. And I had the suspenders and top hat for Max's costume.

It was an epic haul, even for Savers.

As I paid the bill, I stood a little taller. I smiled at the vest that I knew Lucy would love. I folded the jeans and the winter jackets that would keep my kids warm in the unfamiliar cold. Then I jammed the nasty blanket into the cat carrier, and I walked out with my head held high.


Smug, even.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Gone Fishing. The loss of a childhood friend.

He wore a skirt to my 13th birthday party, and kissed me next to the pool table in my grandparents' basement.

We went to a small school together in a seaside town known for fresh scallops and lobster shacks. Buoys hung from backyard fences where lobster traps were stacked for mending, boat trailers rested in gravel driveways, and lifejackets mixed with bikes in the garages that had sand for floors. Fishing boats lined up along the coast every evening, and churned out to sea as the sun rose each day. None of my friends had  any aspirations to become fishermen ourselves at the time, but it was inevitable that the sea would lure at least a few of us. We all knew the ocean and the local beaches as well as we knew our own backyards. The Long Island Sound was our playground and our classroom.

He had huge blue eyes, peering out from under a mop of tousled blonde hair. He was quieter than some, smaller than most, and the third boy named Sam in our class of 18. At the end of ninth grade we parted ways - different high schools, different friends, very different paths.

Sam found me on Facebook about 4 years ago. He was in Hawaii, captaining a commercial fishing boat. A year later he came to visit. We planned to meet at an outdoor street fair, and I would be lying if I said I recognized him through the crowd. But he spotted me, raised his hand in greeting, and threw his arms around my shoulders for a long hug. He was strong, and taller than he had been the last time I saw him. His hair was no longer flopping over his eyes, but those eyes were still that deep bright blue I had all but forgotten until I saw them again. We stood around late into the evening, leaning on a pickup  truck drinking beer while my kids climbed around the back and hung from the racks. He talked to my Sam, we caught up on the friends we had in common, made plans for him to come out for Thanksgiving if he was ever around over the holidays.

He was never around for the holidays.

"Gone Fishing" he would post on Facebook, sometimes accompanied by a photo of the harbor receding in the distance as the boat entered the deeper water of the Pacific, bound for a few weeks of hard work and high seas.

We heckled each other on our pages, swapping photos and memes, and I could always tell when he had been drinking because his comments would turn dark, the words sharp and angry. And in the morning sometimes I would find an apology. "I don't even really feel that way" he said. Sometimes he would comment on something I had written here, and I was always surprised he had been reading.

A few weeks ago I found myself in the city where his boat was docked. A friend of mine was getting married, and I had flown in for the weekend. I thought Sam was fishing, but he sent me a message with his address at the dock and an invitation to come visit. I was standing in a bar sometime around midnight, drunk and slightly disoriented when I read it. I considered jumping in a cab and tracking him down, but only briefly. I was not in any condition to be wandering alone on docks in the middle of the night. I messaged him back with my apologies and regrets, and he responded quickly: "Don't worry, I'll catch you next time. I'm not going anywhere."

And then he left. Gone fishing.

I don't know exactly what happened on the trip, but I can tell you this: it was his last.
Sam was lost at sea.

As the news ripples through our friends, it is hard to understand how this could possibly happen to someone who was so in tune with the ocean and so respectful of it's power. But for people who spend their whole lives on the water, it is just the cycle of life. It is shocking, as an unexpected and untimely death always is, and at the same time, for a child of the sea, one who heard the crash of waves like a pulse, it is only fitting.

Our home town is filled with houses that have a small room at the very top of the roof. It's called a widow's walk, and women would go up there to watch for their husband's ship to return home.

It seemed strange to me, until today.