Shopping with Grandma

19.February 2021

My grandmother loved to shop. She grew up on a farm, but determined to be a city girl. Shopping didn’t mean buying. It was looking and assessing things and talking to people about them.
Grandma was very frugal. Although she was horrified by the prices my Europhile mother would pay for things, Grandma wouldn’t bring any junk into her house. If it wasn’t quality, she wouldn’t buy it at any price.

Shopping involved certain gestures, discreetly fingering the fabric, deftly flipping a garment open to see how it was sewn, to examine the quality of the lining. Objects were promptly upended to see the quality of workmanship and to search for manufacturers’ engravings. If she couldn’t lift and turn an object of interest with one hand, she’d give me the nod, and I would turn it upside down for her examination.

She owned three precious objects: her Royal Typewriter, her Singer Sewing machine, and her mechanical adding machine. These items lasted her at least 50 years and they still work. They were the altars at which I learned writing and math, although sewing eluded me. My grandmother felt rich through these machines and her ability to use them.

To keep these machines working, she had to keep track of the dwindling repairmen. Even in her 80s, after my mother took away her car, Grandma rode buses across town to them, to keep her machines working well.