The $5 Hallmark coupons were burning a hole in my pocket.
After a very productive writing session this morning, I headed to the Hallmark store next to the restaurant. Of course I headed right to the clearance shelf at the back, walking past a shelf full of marked down Marjolean Bastin on my way. I felt a twinge of sadness then. I used to buy my mother bird-themed things for Christmas.
Mom loved the birdies. She had a bird feeder in full-view of her front window that she kept well-stocked. I was horrified last winter when she confided she’d trudged outside in the deep snow with a walking stick, in order to put out a suet cake for the birds. She could have fallen down on the slippery sidewalk and broken her hip! Or fell over in the deep snow and froze to death.
For the past several Christmases I had bought my mother Marjolean Bastin bird-themed items to add to the basket I’d pack with coffee and chocolate. Last year it was a notepad for her refrigerator. The year before a jar topper. One year it was a light-switch cover.
When I got back to the clearance section I was amazed at the deals; $3 boxes of stationery, a Yankee clean linen candle, and birds. Lots and lots of birds. I choked up with emotion. The owner walked past me to the back room.
“Are you ready, Mary?” she asked, and I shook my head no, my back to her. Tears coursed down my cheeks. I didn’t dare speak, or she’d know I was crying. I could hear her dialing a phone in the back room, ordering some products. Relieved, I attempted to compose myself.
I had been doing so well since my mother’s death. Other than the tears welling up when I found a great deal on Folgers and the abject sadness I was feeling, I hadn’t broken down since her funeral. And now I was gulping back sobs in a Hallmark store?
I grabbed the boxes of stationery, a candle, and a gift for my daughter, then walked around the store a bit, furtively wiping at my eyes and pinching the bridge of my nose, trying to stem the tide of tears that kept coming, despite my futile attempts. What was wrong with me?
Everywhere I looked, there were birds; bird figurines, bird frames, bird cups, and the decorative garden plaques. I had to get out of there, but my hands were full and I was determined to use some of those $5 coupons. Maybe she wouldn’t notice. Eyes down, I approached the counter with my purchases. I started digging in my purse for the coupons. The owner was quiet and still, not adding up my purchases. I looked up and met her eyes then, and she softly asked, “What’s wrong?” The dams broke, and tears poured out, unchecked. I told her, between sobs, my shoulders shaking and the tears coming full-fledged. I told her about my mother dying and how much she’d loved her birds. I pointed at the shelves of birds and mentioned how I’d always bought them for her and now there was no mother to buy gifts for. Her eyes filled with tears, and she said she understood, that her father had fought a losing battle with cancer too, and that she had no parents now, either. I stopped crying, composing myself and apologizing for my breakdown. “I feel so stupid, crying in a Hallmark store.”
“It’s okay,” she continued, “It will happen again when you least expect it.”
How kind she was. I thanked her for understanding.
And I even remembered to use my coupons.
When I got home, I was greeted by this sight on my porch steps:
Going inside the house, I spotted the walking stick I had chosen among those that my mother had carved.
I think I’ll be going back to that Hallmark store to look at the marked-down bird merchandise.
Maybe someone else loves the birdies.