John Hearn recalls shopping as a child in a family that didn’t have all that much money. He reflects on what shopping has become today and reminds us of the true meaning of shopping:
We shopped rarely and with forethought and together. Shopping was a social ritual, a group activity that followed a set procedure. After the tax refund check arrived, usually in late March, when the cold ocean winds still swept the hills south of Boston, my mother gathered the four of us for our biannual trek uptown. Each of her three boys would get a pair of trousers, summer sneakers and a Red Sox cap, all at least a size too big, to better accommodate growth spurts. She feared the prospect of a child who had outgrown clothes that could not be easily replaced. “Don’t be so full of yourself,” she would admonish, after I complained that the new pants bunched up or the inexpensive sneakers turned skyward at the toes. “Do you really think everyone is looking at you?” . . . .
At Christmas, we received things we needed: socks and underwear, a sweater to grow into. When Frankie got a paper route and hired me as his helper, we would put aside money so we could buy gifts for our parents. The Friday before Christmas, after delivering the last of the newspapers, we’d walk by the shops, assuring each other that we’d find perfect presents, ones they needed and wanted too. But they needed everything, and what they may have wanted we couldn’t afford and they never would have mentioned anyway. . . .
I hated shopping. It was an activity filled with anxiety and embarrassment and guilt. It required that I deny myself: that I sit down, don’t fidget, listen, stop complaining, say thank you, shut up, don’t interrupt, stop staring at my brother, walk in the freezing cold and subdue the desire stimulated by the new and shiny to the modest reality defined by my meager paper-route profits. As an adult, though, I understand that neither the quantity nor the quality of the gifts really mattered. It was those social rituals I reluctantly shared with my family that remain a fundamental source of meaning. Shopping was all about the social processes that, like a shared meal or religious service, reminded us that we were together, as a family and congregation and neighborhood. We were embedded in a web of interdependence, a reality greater than ourselves, one in which we had to sacrifice our individual whims and desires.