Penney’s from heaven

I took my mom shopping this weekend to one of her favorite places in the world: JC Penney’s. We have been lifelong JC Penney’s fans. I’ve never called it “Penney’s.” It seems too blasphemous. It was one of the only places that shipped to Saipan which meant it was a big deal. I remember dreamily flipping through the super thick catalogs, circling the most expensive toys, checking out the 18-hour bras that maybe one day I would be able to fill and fantasizing about the life that these lucky mainlanders were able to have. I was ordering the Stoneybrook, Connecticut world I read about in the Babysitters Club: stirrup pants, big earrings, bikes with floral baskets and streamers. I rarely got what I had circled. My parents opted for practical purchases like dresses and shoes, things I would wear. Everything else was filed back into my dream bank of what it must have been like to live in the mainland.

In the seventh grade, I tried to impress some girls by wearing a JC Penney’s dress and some princess outed me by yelling, “I saw that in the kid’s section!” These were not the successful times of high-fashion. My House of Style episode would show how I poorly mimicked Aaliyah’s boxer short + baggy jeans trend and another princess laughed, “My grandpa wears those!” I don’t know where these princesses are now. I haven’t heard about them conducting valuable cancer research or writing novels or engineering solutions to benefit mankind. Their facebook posts are sunset pictures with inspirational sayings. They’re most likely still on Saipan or some small town, keeping their lips immaculately painted but never saying any real words of substance, too afraid they have nothing to say.

We’ve had a lot of heartache with JC Penney’s, too. They stopped printing the thick catalogs. First there were thin seasonal offerings: a catalog for spring wear or a catalog for homegoods. Then that disappeared and we were directed to look at the website. The biggest disappointment came when they discontined a line of clothing called Cabin Creek which was really for older women living in the suburbs, not pioneering ladies who needed to chop wood or they wouldn’t survive the winter. My mom loved all their elastic waist band cotton capri pants, floral v-neck shirts and everything that screams, “I have some questions about this AARP form!”

This weekend I lost my mother. I had turned around to browse through a sales rack when she disappeared. It was like that kid’s book, where I chase every short lady whose fluffy hair poked over the racks and asked, “Are you my mother?”

Then I heard a voice call over the intercom: “Could Mona Concepcion please come to customer service? Your mom is looking for you.” And lo and behold a friend was also there and instead of joining the search party, she posted this:


And once again, I am in seventh grade, wanting to be cool but my mom said I can’t stay out late you guys! It’s a school night!

mothers be shopping

I found my sister on sale at IKEA

My mom and I have different ideas about shopping.  I like shopping when there are few people around, early in the morning or really late at night.  I don’t like being trapped in the vortex of circling for parking, bumping into others, finding out I can’t use this coupon for roasted chicken because meat-eating jerkfaces didn’t leave anything for me.  I like shopping without panic, there’s something about crowds and frenzy that surfaces the asshole in me.  I get anxious, I get nervous, I get the feeling of wanting to be anywhere but there, that saving money isn’t worth making me want to FIGHT EVERYONE.

But my mom sees something like the Black Friday sale at Wal-Mart and says, “Oh let’s go!”  She goes right into the eye of the storm with me at the helm because she doesn’t drive.  She doesn’t think of things like this will be the unmentioned circle of hell (not to mention corporate culture, ethics, etc etc etc) where I will get into a passive aggressive huffing-match with someone who is blocking my way with a shopping cart full of shea butter lotion and Tweety-Bird sweatshirts.

Last year we did go to Wal-Mart on Black Friday, the worst days of all days to be there, but my mom and her sister who was in town were insistent on going, “JUST TO LOOK!” The worst part was that I had two elderly Chamorro women saying to me, “Buy these sweatpants!  These are good sweatpants for you, Mona!”  Like they were the hosts of some kind of bizarre makeover show but in reverse and instead of the boots, leggings and Ann Taylor tunic I came in wearing, what I really needed was a pair of cheap sweatpants and sweatshirt.  Then when I gave in, picked up the sweatpants and went to the cashier, they disappeared and I had to buy these Chamorro-woman recommended sweatpants for myself.  Merry Early Christmas Mona!

There have been new developments.  I’ve taken her to thrift stores and she hasn’t resisted like she has in years past.  On Saipan , thrifting culture is still new.  People are having garage sales now, a mercantile energy emerging because of a rough economy and it makes sense.  But growing up, there was always a shame in wearing other people’s clothes.  As if wearing a second hand dress from a stranger–which is different from wearing a hand-me-down from my siblings–was a reflection of our need for charity, like a big billboard that yelled: “WE ARE POOR!”

But now, she’s better about our trips to thrift stores and consignment shops when I need to buy new-to-us pants for the boys because they’ve grown so much, all their pants have become capris.  I’ve shown her how I look for specific brands, check collars and hemlines, inspect for tips, etc. She doesn’t approve of buying secondhand shoes, which I agree with sometimes because shoes are often worn down, stretched, ill-fitting.  I have purchased great pairs in the past at shops catered to college students (I’m still young!  someone card me!), but I haven’t been so lucky lately.

She still has her reservations. Once on our way out, she needed a scarf so I handed her one of mine.  She said, “Is this scarf new?  Or did someone with Ebola use this?”

“No mom, I didn’t get it from the Ebola Store.  They were all out of scarves.”

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