My mom is 97 this year, and though she’s still mobile with her cane or her walker, she doesn’t go out much, apart from medical appointments. On my visit to her last week, I mentioned needing to stop at Walmart to buy a new case for my smartphone. Mom perked up and said she’d like to go along.
We made a list. Mom wanted a watch with a large enough face for her to tell time. That is pretty much impossible, because the current state of her macular degeneration means she sees best out of the corner of her eye. Staring at a watch face is not the best way for her to figure out what time it is. Yelling, “Alexa, what time is it!?” works much better. She does that a lot.
Mom has wanted a dustbuster since at least my previous visit last November. I figured that if she still remembered that she wanted a dustbuster, it was probably time to buy one. I figured we’d be away from home for 45 minutes to an hour. Silly me.
There weren’t any of the electric carts at the entrance, so I positioned mom on a bench where a young man was staring at his phone. I went off to see if I could find her a cart. A helpful staffer found a cart in the parking lot and brought it in, then drove it to the entrance where I’d left mom. Mom was not anxiously waiting, but had engaged the young man in conversation. When I approached, she said, “This is Toby, are we going anywhere near James St? He missed his bus and we could give him a ride.” She then launched into his life story that she’d extracted in the four minutes that I was gone. I pointed out that we had just arrived at the store, and his bus would probably arrive before we finished shopping. He agreed, thanked us, and mom got in the cart.
She took off, heading down the clear aisle. Head down, focused, she was going toward the registers and the exit, rather than into the store. I hurried to her. “Mom, we have to go the other way.” Head down, no response. “Mom!” …nothing. Finally, “STOP!” By now, people are staring. She jerked to a halt and looked at me, mildly surprised at the fuss. I indicated the way we needed to go, she backed up , and we entered the store.
Down one aisle, I find someone who points us toward electronics. We get there, I discover that though they “should” have the case I want, they don’t. My trip to Walmart is done.
We find another person and ask directions to dustbusters. It’s at the opposite end of the store. We head that way with me holding on to the front of the cart. I’m not sure I could stop her if she hit the accelerator, but I could try. We make our way down the broad aisle until we find vacuum cleaners and finally hand-held devices in a narrower aisle. Mom wants to hold each one, turning it over, asking where the on button is, how is it emptied, how much it costs. The sample devices are attached to wires, and we maneuver her cart close enough that she can feel each one. A single model is in an open box, and we remove it, test how the parts go together, it’s size, and weight, eventually opting to purchase it. I reassemble the pieces, close the box, and think we are done. I feel a bit sweaty after the interrogation about dustbusters, but we had success.
As we head toward the front of the store, mom takes one hand off the steering and points upward. “Talcum powder!” she shouts as the cart swerves violently to the left. “That’s what I need.” We ask directions, she swerves in a U, narrowly avoiding a display of piled boxes, and we change direction, rolling toward the pharmacy. We have some trouble finding baby powder, and we’re probably in the wrong aisle, but I couldn’t find the adult powder section, and mom seemed pleased with the size of the baby powder container. Into the basket it went.
Once again, I thought we were done, when we rolled down the aisle with Easter candy, and mom remembered that she needed cinnamon hard candy. She couldn’t understand why there was no hard candy among the Easter chocolates. She picked out a bag of Cadbury chocolate eggs and put them in the cart. We found a person who could direct us to the candy aisle–it was not nearby. We needed to turn around near the front registers and mom seemed to have gotten the hang of driving her cart. I let go of the front while she turned into a narrow space between a displays backing onto the registers. She was almost through when it happened. Mom hit the gas to make the last turn and crashed into a group of wire stands, strewing small bags and boxes. One section leaned over on her, other sections were pushed askew. It looked a mess. Mom looked puzzled, a sort of “Moi?” look on her face. She was obviously uninjured, nothing had landed on her. I pushed the tilted display back as three guys came hustling up. I thought they’d yell, but after making sure she was ok, they immediately went to work setting things back in place.
A young woman in a Walmart vest appeared beside us, hands on hips, and again, I feared the worst. Would mom be banned from Walmart for life? “Jeanne, are you all right?” she asked. I stared. How did she know mom’s name? Was mom already notorious at Walmart?. Mom looked at her vaguely. Despite her glasses, she really doesn’t see much. “It’s me, Tiny,” the woman said. “From Loretto.”
“Oh, Tiny, hi, how are you.” They chat.
This young woman, whose name is not Tiny, worked at mom’s independent living facility that is owned by the Loretto Health and Rehabilitation Center Co (hence called Loretto). Mom, in her politically incorrect way, nicknamed this woman Tiny when she met her. Yes, the woman is under five feet tall, but in the United States it is customary to call people by their name, not by whatever nickname you happen to free associate with them. Mom is undaunted by contemporary manners.
When they’ve finished reminiscing, mom remembers that we were looking for hard candy. Tiny shows us the way. Having arrived, Mom drove along while I searched for cinnamon candies, found them, and put the bag in her hands. They passed muster, and again I thought we were done.
We’d already walked up and down and around for almost an hour, but we weren’t done yet. I’d forgotten the watch. Jewelry is toward the front of the store, and in hopes of leaving, I directed us to the area where we could look for a watch. Mom held each watch, squinting at the face, trying to read the time. Most were impossible for her to read. A young salesperson appeared and was very helpful, showing mom watch after watch. She’d squint, guess the time, and hand each one back to the woman. Eventually, after about twenty watches, we had a man’s wristwatch, and a pocket watch. She held the pocket watch and said, “the twelve is up here, right?” (by the stem). “No, the stem is by the three.” “Hold it like a book.” She decided she could see the time, so we clicked the case closed. She couldn’t get it open again. We tried a few more times and she managed to get it open, deciding the pocket watch would work. I had some doubts because it was a bit heavy and I imagined her wearing it on a chain around her neck. She was sure this was the best thing ever, and we added it to our little pile. At last, we were done.
Mom managed to thread her cart through the checkout without toppling anything new, and we headed to the parking area. Her young friend from the entrance bench was gone, so we didn’t have to give him a ride home. In the car, she opened her cinnamon candy, to make sure they had enough zip.
Home again, I saw we had been gone for just over two hours. On the way in, mom offered everyone she passed a cinnamon candy. I was ready for a nap. Mom was delighted by her finds, and wanted to vacuum with her dustbuster immediately. Once she’d given it a test drive, she put her talcum powder in the bathroom, and sat down with her new watch. She couldn’t get it open despite having been able to do so in the store. I tried bending the clasp, but couldn’t make it work in a way that made it easier to open. We let it sit until the next day.
When I went to put the candy on the shelf, I found an existing bag of cinnamon candies, AND a bag of butterscotch candies, AND a bag of Werther’s caramel candies. Mom hadn’t needed candy at all. She’d once again forgotten what was on her shelf. When I went to look for a baking dish, I also discovered a large bag of chocolate bars, meaning her bag of Cadbury’s chocolate eggs was also utterly unnecessary. These days, an unfortunate number of things on her shelf go bad from being ignored, probably because she forgets they are on the shelf in the first place.
Two days later, I went back to Walmart, returned the chocolates and the watch. I probably should have returned the dustbuster, as mom’s probably already forgotten where we hung it, behind a chest in the den. I would have returned the cinnamon candy if mom hadn’t opened them in the car.
Two hours at Walmart, one plastic container of talcum powder and a dustbuster. That doesn’t tell the whole story though, does it?
(four other items, one life story, one car crash, one reminiscence with an old friend, two returns).