When I was a girl, about once a month Mom would make a trip downtown to shop. Usually only I went along, sometimes all three of us kids were in tow. Her shopping list more often than not included shoes for me or one of my two brothers. She complained frequently how quickly we outgrew our wardrobe. Mom sewed most of our clothing, so we stopped by the fabric store, too.
Memories from those times include the fascinating pneumatic cash tube. THHHWIP and the brass cylinder was sucked into a void… and moments later THHHWUNK it magically reappeared with the change. The stairways smelled of linoleum and wood polish and echoed our footsteps. In some stores we rode the elevators attended by men and women in uniform. Gates and barriers clattered open and closed as we made our way from floor to floor.
Mom had no choice but to take us with her. We were well-behaved most of the time, but rarely were we able to get through a shopping visit without a squirm or squabble. She tried to make these trips as enjoyable as she could. In other words, she bribed us into behaving.
“If you’re good, we’ll get a treat at Goudies.”
She must have been exhausted at the end of an afternoon. Even though we may not have earned it, we always wound up at the soda counter, enjoying a float or ice-cream sundae.
A few shopping trips stand out for unpleasant reasons. My first bra, for example, was purchased with the help of a jolly store clerk. Three of us behind the curtain, two of us all business-like while shortening straps and poking the padding. The third of the party got over it, eventually.
Another time, when I was in my early teens, I resented that I had to accompany mom when I would have rather been home reading. She was remarkably cheerful that day. Perhaps it was her way of deflecting her daughter’s sour mood.
Finally! It was time to catch the bus home. We stood outside at the stop. One or two other people were waiting with us.
Then it happened. You think trying on a bra with a complete stranger in a tiny dressing room is bad. Well! You have no idea what it’s like for your mom to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger! I wanted to die.
My reaction was typical, I think, of adolescent self-consciousness. I outgrew it, like I outgrew nail-biting and pinching money from mom’s purse. As for striking up conversations with complete strangers, these days I generally wait for the other to make the first move. Especially at social gatherings where small talk and storytelling are required. I am a good listener. Sometimes, though I desire that someone listen to me.
Today I read this post.
The author talks about the importance of acknowledging another’s existence, especially since many of us live solitary lives.
Connecting to people sometimes takes time. They need to feel trust and they need to feel safe. They don’t want to be judged. Most importantly? They want to feel listened to.
Ah yes, there it is! That’s what I look for in friendship: to feel that I am heard. When I talk with someone, I look for reciprocation, for an exchange of thoughts that build one upon the other.
I think Mom craved exactly that sort of connection. Living with Dad kept her isolated. Outside of work and home, she had no social contact. Saturdays downtown were the few times that she had the chance to connect with someone new.
On a few occasions when I was in a “bus stop” situation, I surprised myself by initiating a conversation. It was always pleasant and I have never regretted being the first to speak. Those times, I was influenced by Mother’s nature.
My preference for solitude, thanks to the “nurturing” of my father, however, wins the day. For me, it is difficult to make new friends. I have learned to be OK with that.