Sunday, December 6, 2009

And the Race is On!

I once knew a couple who had immigrated to the US from Russia.  The year was 1975.  It was before "Peristroyka" (reconstruction of the Soviet economy).  They arrived in the United States with blank unemotional eyes.  Unless you have actually witnessed this phenomenon, it almost impossible to describe. These were people who knew that their very life depended on their being able to control every emotion in their body from being read and the eyes, being the window to the soul, were devoid of any feeling.  I called them "dead eyes".

Abruptly, this couple, who were well educated, found employment that led them to be able to purchase anything and everything their hearts' desired.  They moved quickly into the fiber of this country, bought a house and set out to furnish it.  That's when the disaster began.
Shops in Russia 25

Lines.... people waiting in line to be able to buy some thing.

Life in communist Russia had been hard.  It wasn't that they might not have had the kopeck to spend, it was that nothing was available to buy.  One might set out to buy a loaf of bread but upon waiting for hours for access to the store, only shoes were available to purchase that day, so they bought shoes because next week, they might need shoes and not find them. (government run commerce)

Shops in Russia 21Then once inside, not much to choose from...

My friends went shopping for furniture.  They spent the day going from one department store to the next.  They arrived home, exhausted from their shopping spree and in a foul mood.  

"What happened?", I asked.  Koyla, the husband had been drawn to the chairs and couches that were big heavy, sturdy and over stuffed while Irena, was in love with the delicate modern styles of the day.  Within 3 months, they were divorced.  Turned out, they had very little in common.

I am reminded of a story my American cousin's wife told me about my own mother.  This was the family that sponsored us to immigrate to the US after WWII.

We were brand new Americans ourselves.  They had been kind enough to rent us a small house (with an outhouse).  The first few trips to purchase necessities were done by the cousins.  This day, our cousin decided to ween my mother into being able to shop for herself.  She agreed to babysit for me, (hopefully I was well behaved for a 6 month old baby) while my mother made the trip to the local grocery store by herself.

After an hour, our cousin began to worry a little as mom had not returned.  She was just getting some basics, like milk and bread after all.

Two hours later, our cousin was getting concerned.

Three hours passed and I was bundled up and rushed to the streets with my cousin in search of my missing mom.

We found her, sitting on the ledge of the store front waiting to be told "It's your turn to go shopping!".

Our cousin marched mom and me into the store and proceeded to show mother that in America, you can walk into any store and you get to put your hands on the merchandise and even get to pick which bottle of milk you want.  Imagine that!

From that day forward, shopping with my mother was a nightmare for me and later when my baby brother was born, even more aggravating for him, (being a boy and all).

Each and every shopping trip took hours.  Mom would visit every isle, touch each and every can, box or package.  She would ponder for the longest time whether to buy the Ivory soap or the Palmolive bar.  No tomato was left without her carefully fingering it for bruises or blemishes.  

She never tired of this ritual,  practicing it up until her last days with us here on earth.  Do I miss the tedious shopping trips with mom?  Yes, I would give my "right arm" to have her back and I would be very gracious today...  if only.....

We take shopping for granted in this country.  It's the Holiday season and we all want to please our friends and family with the wonderful delights that we have thoughtfully purchased, made or assembled for them.  We scour the shops, the newspapers and the internet for "finds".  We brag to each other, how we got a bargain on this or that item.  We contemplate on the color, we worry about the size or we fret if the style is right.  

We just forget to be grateful that we live in a country where we can shop and pick and choose.

I love this country!


  1. We forget how easy we have it! (Silversmack)

  2. I hope this read by as many people as possible. We take so much for granted.

  3. You know, I viewed grocery shopping as a chore until I read this. Yes, I'm grateful that I can feed my kid, and always have managed to do that. I have stopped to reflect on that over the years. But the very act of being able to pick our own merchandise out, not be told what to buy when and how by the government? Not being forced to stand in long lines that the sick, old, and weary are unable to endure...

    We have so much more to be thankful for than we can even imagine. To have never been repressed and brainwashed by a government trying to keep us as their hungry robot army is number one on my list of thanks to God today.

    That, and being able to touch the tomatoes. The market should be a sensual experience!

    More stories like this, but not twice in one day--I might be forced to turn to drink!