The first time you sent me an email telling me that you missed me, I deleted it.
That was a year ago.
But now, 12 months later, your emails still come. I know I have to explain.
You miss me. I miss you, too. The reason I haven't been to your store is because my mother passed away.
She was the reason I was at Goodwill every Sunday. My mother and I would move along together, she using the shopping cart to push herself forward and give her freedom without the walker that she hated having to rely on. She stopped and examined everything, and with her leaning against the cart, I felt safe enough to give her time on her own, while I shopped the next aisle over. All the while, I'd be checking in, calling out to her across the sweaters and belts, “Did you find something you like yet, mama? Oh, here let me bring this skirt over for you to see.”
“I am fine, m'ija (my daughter) I see so many things for the children. But I do like red jackets. If you see one, let me see it. I love a red jacket with everything.”
“We'll keep looking, mama, but I haven't seen one yet. We have the whole afternoon free.”
Confident in the shopping cart's sturdiness, she would shuffle her feet along. I would hear nothing but her soft Spanish murmurings, “Ah, look at this one. This is something I remember having.”
Our trips here were a reason to be out without needing one. Goodwill was the only place where my mother could be nostalgic, feel the familiarity in the days gone before, and be able to find something to take home to my three children. She would always find a sweater for herself, and would tell me to treat myself to a purse or a scarf. She would pick up a vest for my husband, "He is a good man, I want to bring him something." A gift meant love to my mother. Love was not an easy word for her to say, but Goodwill, you did it for her.
Your store made her feel like a millionaire. She was able to buy anything there, a bag full of purchases, with a senior discount, was never more than she could afford. She would call my name, and I would come to her side, listening to her stories about the item she had found and how she had that very same red plaid thermos when she first came to America.
Not all of our time was spent reminiscing. A fair amount of our conversations were me talking her out of the same set of miniature owls made of seashells.
"These little owls, there are perfect for your bathroom. Look, there are three, one for each of your children!"
"No, mama, I have enough stuff. I don't want any more stuff in my house."
"But, look, they are so cute. I want to buy them for you."
And so it would go. She would hold the small seashell owls in her hand. I would tell her no. And she would place them carefully back on the wire shelf, until the next week when she would again look at them.
For 18 months of Sunday afternoons, my mother and I worked the aisles of Goodwill. In every kind of weather. It was a ritual that persisted until the week before she passed away, after being in hospice only 21 days.
On our last Sunday there together, how could I have not known to celebrate it? I should have felt something.
If only there had been a whispering, a nod from somewhere, to let me know, this was the final time of walking side by side, talking to her across the aisles.
I would have lingered longer. And I would have nodded yes to the little owls made of seashells.
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