The Life-Giving Power of the 99¢ Store
As mothers we all experience that bittersweet mixture of joy, awe and panic that comes with watching our children grow older. But as daughters, there is nothing harder than watching your parents grow older along side them.
My father, a child of the depression, a veteran of World War II, a family man who worked his entire life in the family bakery business, has always been a get-up-and-go kind of guy.
I don’t remember him ever taking a sick day and I don’t remember him ever saying “no” when I asked him to do anything. Especially if it meant jumping into the Olds, just the two of us, for a road trip to that distant, exotic locale, otherwise known in my city-dwelling family as (insert heaven sound effect here) - the shopping center in the suburbs.
So now as I watch my dad, at 95 years old, still gamely inching towards my car in his Costco sneakers and cane, my hand closing around the entire circumference of his arm despite the fuzzy padding from his vintage I.Magnin mohair cardigan that he brings when he visits me, I am grateful to be spending what I pray will be one of many more afternoons together at the dream factory.
The 99¢ Store.
And I mean the entire afternoon — two-three hours minimum. Starting up the far right on Aisle 7 — emojii pillows, assorted mugs, religious candles, seasonal decorations — and moseying our way down aisle-by-aisle — automotive, hardware, off-brand lotions, bargain hair products — up Aisle 5 — copycat brand snacks, beverages, pinatas — and down again. My dad loves to pick each item up and read the labels, savor their promise, imagine the bargain bragging-rights at his next Wednesday coffee with friends.
Alas, we are honing in on the last couple of aisles when, uh-oh, it is time to use the restroom. That’s three whole aisles ahead off Aisle1, which means we must walk all the way past aisles 4 through1, then totter back to pick up where we left off.
I need to sit down. But then I notice something as I watch my dad come strolling out of the men's room.
His cane is still in the cart that is with me. There is a spring in his step. There is a smile on his face. There are white ceramic mugs, 14 oz. size, handles not too high, not too low, large enough to grip with three fingers, not too heavy even accounting for coffee and milk, that he is in hot pursuit of. “I think I’m going to get those mugs,” he says. “They're back on Aisle 7.”
He grabs the cart, pushing with both hands, picking up speed. Back to where we started, six aisles ago. We pick up the mugs and examine them again, making sure we are getting our 99 cents worth. “These are a good deal,” I decide, picking up four for myself.
Priceless, in fact. Because for an entire afternoon, I get the immeasurable pleasure of watching my father become young again.
“It’s like a shot of Vitamin B, Vitamin D and Vitamin Fun!” That’s how my mom describes her devout weekly visits to the 99¢ Store with her friend, Carol. My mom has a knack for combining her two greatest passions in life: bargain shopping and taking care of the world. She fostered over 80 children and 15 adopted families in need throughout the country, on top of caring for her own 5 children and 8 grandchildren. She loves the 99 because she says, “Everything you need is in one place, and a lot of things you don’t need too! I can buy everything I need to take care of everyone.”
Now that she can’t drive as much anymore, it pains me to see her staying home much of the time. “It’s a bother to go anywhere,” she says. When she does go out, she needs help walking. “No I don’t, I’m not an old ladyI”
Every once in a while, she and Carol still manage to go to the 99 and miraculously all the aches and pains disappear. ”Baby clothes you would not believe. I found leather wallets for 99¢ for heaven sakes! Really, we can spend an hour and a half walking around there. Then we go get ice cream because we’re hungry.”
She’ll spend $100 buying for all the families she’s caring for, and spend $50 just to ship it to them. In my younger days I would turn up my nose at the “great finds” she would come rushing home with, laying each treasure out on her bed for all to admire.
Now I realize she introduced me to a world that is richer than I ever realized. A world that allows you to do something valuable for your fellow man, once you realize the world will not come to an end if you don’t have the fanciest stuff.
Now I love going to the 99¢ Store. I can pick up everything I need in one place. Walking down the aisles - reading glasses, dog toys, cute wrapping paper - I start to become hypnotized. Oh God, I’m turning into my mom! And, maybe, I’m OK with that.