She looked like many teenage girls, with a dewy complexion and Miley Cyrus curls framing a pretty face. She cast her eyes toward the pavement, though, to avoid my smile as I held the door for her and the dad rushing to join her from a luxury car. He took the door and held it while thanking me. Her look said, “Please don’t notice that we’ve come to this.”
I was dropping off clothing after a closet-cleaning spree. The Salvation Army is glad to have wearable donations, used books and toys, children’s furniture, and anything re-useable. It provides a real service, especially in times like these.
Lately, the shoppers’ ranks have been swelled by those who were once more affluent.
The young woman and her dad separated. He stopped at the collection of books and CDs, and she headed for the racks of women’s clothes. I watched her moving the hangers one by one, as she inspected the items arranged by color. She angrily slammed each rejected blouse into the previous unwanted item on the rack, seemingly upset that her choices were reduced to this.
Behind her, a baby wailed. His young father comforted him while his mother turned from her inspection of used dishes to set a pacifier in the baby’s mouth. That little family showed none of the teen’s embarrassment. They looked like the usual clientele that enjoys bargain-hunting in thrift shops.
The teen finally identified a blouse she could live with. Laundered and starched, it had today’s gypsy-fashion look. She marched it over to her dad, who checked the price tag and gave her a cautious nod.
She never smiled. A shirt she could live with as opposed to an item of clothing she loved was a distinction her set jaw made clear. Holding up the blouse for a final inspection, her expression suggested, “Will anyone ever know I got this here?”
By then, her father was inspecting clothing for young men. He found a Red Sox sweatshirt that looked as if it might fit a 10-year-old boy. As he made the decision to take it, the man’s head moved slightly toward one shoulder and he shrugged to himself in resignation.
This tiny drama mirrors scenes in supermarkets and other retailers. An elderly woman picks up a box of cereal, looks at the price, shakes her head and puts it back on the shelf. A young man in overalls driving a work truck watches the dials spinning at the gas pump, and in the end, replaces the nozzle, mumbling curse words.
Good friends collecting unemployment make excuses when invited to join us at a local diner. In the drug store, a mother tells a begging child, over and over again, “Mommy can’t pay for that.”
For some, “that” used to be a $10 toy: now it’s a $1 bag of candy. Either way, the child is disappointed, the mom saddened.
My grandparents used to talk about the Depression. I am only now able to put a face on what they were remembering, and I fear for what the heartless, cold, and costly winter will bring.