Terry Woster: Distance shopping the old fashioned way

My sainted mother loved the Christmas season -- for all the joy and celebration and bright lights and uplifting music, sure, but also for the shopping that is almost an obligation of the season.

Terry Woster

My sainted mother loved the Christmas season - for all the joy and celebration and bright lights and uplifting music, sure, but also for the shopping that is almost an obligation of the season.

Let’s be honest. My mother liked shopping all year long. She delighted at window shopping when we’d make a trip to Mitchell or Sioux Falls or, once or twice in my life, to Kansas City to visit my dad’s older brother and his family. She could spend hours window shopping, standing on the sidewalk outside some department store or Woolworth’s and admiring the items on display just out of reach on the other side of the polished glass of the store window.

Had she lived long enough to become proficient in the use of a laptop computer or a hand-held communications device, she’d probably have become one of those people who live on their machines. If so, I’m pretty sure she’d have lived on the sites that offered shopping opportunities, especially as the holidays neared. It would have been just like window shopping, with the added convenience of being able to make a purchase without entering the store. A click or two, a password, some information from a credit card, and the merchandise is on its way.

As I think on it, I’m pretty sure she’d have caught on to the business of online purchasing rather quickly, once she got the hang of a couple of the technical moves with a mouse. From as far back as I can remember, she knew about distance shopping. The idea of buying something without actually inspecting the merchandise in person wouldn’t have bothered her a bit.

Back when my siblings and I were kids on the farm, our mother took care of all of the shopping by mail. At Christmas time, that meant leafing through the Sears, Roebuck or Montgomery Ward catalogs to choose the purchases, filling out the paper order forms that came with the catalogs, mailing the completed order form (by the U.S. Postal Service, a form of delivery that in recent years has been tagged “snail mail’’ but that was, in my younger days, the best we had) and then waiting a week or 10 days for the packages to show up at the mailbox on the corner north of the farm.


Don’t think, though, that when my mother window-shopped, she stood outside those stores forever. She knew the front doors of every business in Chamberlain or Mitchell, and some in Sioux Falls. She could wander the aisles of a retail place or a tourist shop for long hours, too, and after she died, we all wondered what to do with her vast collection of salt and pepper shakers from places like Niagara Falls and Yellowstone, Salt Lake City and Al’s Oasis.

One of my mother’s favorite Mitchell stores was a department store or “five-and-dime.’’ In my memory, it sat somewhere on the southern part of the main drag, not too far from a doughnut shop. (Which my dad like quite a bit. So did I) The store had an extensive pet collection, with song birds and goldfish and turtles and, I don’t know, maybe salamanders and iguanas.

I’m pretty sure that store is where my mom bought a parakeet one time. She liked the brightly colored bird flapping around in its cage in the kitchen, and she liked the chirps and tweets it made as she cooked on the stove nearby.

I was into “Treasure Island’’ about that time. I’d have preferred a parrot like Captain Flint, the one that rode Long John Silver’s shoulder and squawked “Pieces of eight. Pieces of eight.’’ I didn’t have a vote. We got a parakeet. It made noise but never once talked.

Christmas came that parakeet year, and while we were out, a neighbor delivering presents or something somehow left the cage open. We had a cat or two, and, well, if you watched “Wild Kingdom’’ as often as I did back, you know how that story ended.

It was kind of sad for a while, but not forever. My mother knew where she could find a replacement. It would involve some shopping.

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