Genes win out when there’s a shoe sale

Last month, I had one of those moments when I saw my mother in my daughter. It wasn’t the shape of Grace’s face or the color of her eyes. There is little resemblance: My mother was blond and blue-eyed and my daughter has dark, penetrating eyes and hair almost the color of creosote. At least this week it’s black. Some weeks it’s auburn. In any case, I glimpsed my mother in my daughter in a conversation over the phone.

Grace is 16, a junior in high school, and last month she was looking at colleges in Washington, D.C. That night, I spoke with her from Vermont and asked her what she thought of Georgetown. Her response? “I loved it, I had an amazing day! There was a shoe store near the campus with a pair of Steve Madden heels on sale for $29!”

It is an indication of how many epi sodes of “Sex and the City” I have watched with my daughter that I knew this was indeed a very good price. And, instantly, I recalled how my mother never met a shoe sale that didn’t interest her. She worked for years at Lord & Taylor, a department store, and despite her employee discount, many weeks she must have lost money. The store’s stock tumbled the day she died.

She would have been 80 this Mother’s Day. Now, there is no need to send condolences or worry that I am in mourning this morning: She passed away from cancer a long time ago. But Annalee Carolyn Nelson Bohjalian would have been an octogenarian this Mother’s Day weekend. Lately, I have found it interesting that even though she died well before her granddaughter turned 2, there are hints that Grace has more of Annalee in her than my wife and I supposed a few years ago.

To wit: She has started wearing more of her grandmother’s jewelry, some of which looks like it came in a cereal box.

Among the pieces? A copper medallion not much larger than a penny with my mother’s zodiac sign on it, the Aries ram.

Grace is not an Aries, but when she lost this pendant a few months ago, she was saddened. Her mother found the necklace in what some teen girls must view as a jewelry box: A computer printer. How the necklace wound up inside the printer is a mystery, but it’s back and that’s all that matters. That ridiculous pendant was one of the dozens of bracelets and bangles my mother had to wear before she would board an airplane. Thank heavens security was more lax when my mother was flying: I can’t imagine how TSA officials would have coped with a mad woman wearing jewelry that might have come from Toys ‘R’ Us.

Now, Grace has no recollection of her grandmother: She knows her only through old photos and videos and the stories my wife and I have shared. My wife adored my mother and has lots of stories about her — many of which are indeed about shopping. To wit, when my mother was sick as a dog from a particularly toxic round of chemotherapy, my wife flew to Florida to visit her. What did my mother want to do? Buy clothes. She and my wife went shopping, once again proving the old adage that when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.

I wish my mother had made it at least another half-decade and her granddaughter had gotten to know her. Sure, my mother was a lunatic who often drove me crazy. Once she peed on a mop in a bathroom in a trashy bar because she was afraid if she used the bowl, people on the other side of the door would hear her.

(Yes, she overflowed the mop and it dribbled under the door.) But she was generous and funny and smart. That could describe my wife and my daughter, too. I suspect these three generations of women would have liked shopping together. And based on who my daughter has become, she might even have taught her grandmother a thing or two.

Happy Mother’s Day.

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on May 9, 2010.)

Chris Bohjalian
Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of eighteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Guest Room. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, and The Double Bind.

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