or Home Economics
I am sitting in the sunshine with my book and my coffee on Mister Baby’s last day of playgroup; his first day of summer freedom, my last. A well-dressed - other than the turquoise crocs – fifty-ish woman is slowly circling the benches and surreptitiously foraging among the litter. She reminds me of my mother collecting cans in the park next to our house. The box for deposit bottles was by the front door. “Who’s drinking malt liquor?” I asked incredulously one day. “The guys in the park,” she answered. That day I laughed. The day when they picked me up at Vassar and she was collecting beer cans, I crouched in the back of the station wagon keening with embarrassment. “She’s New England thrifty,” my dad had said.
It’s a terrible moment when you realize you’ve turned into your mother, and the most gut wrenching, mortifying bits of your mother to boot. But being dependent on only the Pater’s income has ignited a thriftiness all my own. We’re not poor but I feel, like my mother before me, that my financial contribution to the household is to economize. So, in order to cut fiscal corners I frequent the 2-for-1 aisle, for example. I also may have put wine in the bottom of Dexter’s stroller and “forgotten” to pay for it. This may have happened more than once. And, as in many criminal enterprises, success may have bred audacity and the quality and price of the wine may have increased over time. The wine may even have been joined by the fancy olive oil and the aged balsamic vinegar. And then I may have been busted.
“Did you pay for the wine, ma’am?” the security guard asks, pulling Mister Baby and me aside at the exit. I have the impression that he knows the answer to this question.
“Oh, my goodness, I must have forgotten,” I attempt to exclaim in surprise. He is unmoved and my stomach turns inside out and I feel see-through; I had been monitored. “Can I just pay for it now, I’m really sorry, I forgot, can I just pay for it, please” I beg and swallow.
He allows enough time for the image of me in handcuffs in front of Mister Baby to sink in before he intones, “If you ‘forget’ again, ma’am, we’ll have to ban you from the store.”
“Oh my goodness, baby, Mommy forgot to pay,” I whinny. Although my hand is shaking I do manage to hand over my Nectar card.
I am so deeply ashamed at getting caught – let’s be honest – that I don’t think I can tell the Pater. However, the full-price Gigondas goes very nicely with the paprika chicken and leeks served over red Camargue rice and I loosen up and admit to being busted and ‘ma’amed,’ all in one day.
The Pater is both amused and affronted. “I’m going to start calling you Winona,” he jokes, but his pride is bruised. “It’s not like we can’t afford wine,” he says.
“Well, don’t get used to this one,” I say.
We still have the joint checking and savings accounts in the States as well as joint checking and savings here. I also kept my checking account in the States as well as what I call my plastic surgery fund. This is the only way I can maintain a fiscal identity, and the idea of independence, for myself. This is my version of the thousands of dollars in twenties we found in my grandmother’s drawers after she died. It was left over from shopping money that Papa would give her each week. So not only have I turned into my mother, but I’ve also channeled my grandmother. I’m Old England thrifty.
The woman in crocs toes at the littered cigarette packs to make sure they’re empty and finding nothing, leaves the green. A man sits down next to me. I have half an hour, half a chapter of my book and half my coffee left when he starts stroking himself with his eyes on my legs.
“Hey” I wheel on him, “this is the last day I get to sit in the park on my own, go somewhere else to do that.”
It’s going to be a hot, dry summer.