It was a couple of years before Mama just up and died without warning and when we least expected it, that I was visiting her one day.
I recall it precisely.
I was sitting on the edge of the sofa and she was in her well-worn recliner, sipping coffee. A look came over her face that was always specific to a well-thought out announcement. She tilted her head to the side, raised an eyebrow and said, “If I knew that I’d live long enough to get enough use out of it, I’d buy me a new bedroom suite.”
That, of course, would have been an excellent idea. After all, her bedroom suite was an inexpensive Art Deco style from the early 1940s when she and Daddy married and the mattress and box springs was a set I had given her from a guest room. When she had been recovering from a hospital visit, she had stayed with me and said repeatedly how much she loved that mattress. So, at first opportunity, I gave it to her.
“I think that is an excellent idea,” I exclaimed. “You need to buy exactly what you want. I’ll take you shopping so you can pick it out.”
She took a sip of coffee and shook her head. “No. It’s a waste of money. I’m not going to live that many more years then you kids would just have to do something with it. I’ll just make do with what I’ve got.”
These kinds of conversations aggravated me beyond measure. It was obvious she had thought a great deal about it, she wanted it and she had the money but she refused to make the purchase.
It took me a long time to realize — and by the time I did, Mama was gone —that a lifetime of watching every dollar doesn’t ever go away. It hangs like an early morning mist over the heads of those who have made it a fervent practice. Mama was one of those.
She was a smart one. And a lucky one.
A few years ago, I needed some help in the yard and was referred to a man who needed the work. The second day he showed up, I opened the door to find him leaning against the porch column, looking as if he might collapse any moment.
“Are you OK?” I asked, alarmed.
He nodded weakly. “Yeah, I just ain’t had nothin’ to eat today. We’re out of food and I ain’t ate since yesterday.”
I opened the door wide. “Come in and let me feed you.”
“Oh no! We get our food stamps today and my wife’s buying steaks for supper. She’ll throw a fit if I eat before supper.”
I protested but he stuck to his ground. A couple of hours later, I went out to check on his progress and he asked if rain was coming.
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen the weather.”
He stood up and scratched his head. “Do you have Direct TV? Because if you do, there’s a button you can push on the remote and it’ll give you the weather.”
It took a second. Sometimes I’m a bit slow on the uptake. He continued to talk on with great knowledge about satellite television until I interrupted him.
“Do you have satellite TV?”
“Oh yeah, I got the whole package.”
Now, here’s a man who hadn’t had food in 24 hours, was waiting on his food stamps to buy steaks but he had satellite television. What’s wrong with that picture?
In our house, shelter and food were paid first. Debts were paid off then any extras were purchased if they were purchased at all. Now, my parents had money worries from time to time when emergencies arose but, for the most part, money problems never kept them awake at night.
And that is one of the greatest — and freest — luxuries in life.