It was an annual ritual for the Welch family.
So, off we would go, my two brothers and I and our mom driving across town in her little tan Ford Falcon to shop for our school clothes at the secondhand stores. My two brothers and I didn't exactly love this particular ritual, but it was clear that my mom did. She usually hummed a happy little ditty as we ventured on our big hunt for just the right bargains. When we would pull into the first parking space at the first store, mom would always put her hand on the shoulder of whichever kid was in the front passenger seat and she would give us this last little bit of encouragement before we walked into The Salvation Army, Goodwill, Purple Heart, etc.:
"Don't feel bad about shopping in these kinds of places, because a lot of rich people shop here."
I never actually saw any rich people in those stores, but as I got older I figured out that if wealth isn't really measured by what's in your bank account; if it's measured by having a great life and a good reputation and doing something that matters every day; then my mother is one of the wealthiest people that I know. So, technically she was right: Rich people DID shop there, because SHE did.
I couldn't understand it at the time but mom was just doing what came naturally to her. She was doing her due diligence to see that all the family trains ran on time. And, indeed they did. We had some hard times, but we never missed a meal and we always had a roof over our head. How she was able to do all of that on the very small amount of money that came into our house, is nothing short of miraculous.
A few years ago I decided to write our family story. I went over to mom's house every Saturday for about six months and interviewed her for two hours each time. Quite honestly, it's something we probably all should do. I learned so much new information about my family in those little Saturday morning talks. I recorded each session and then transcribed them by hand, the old fashioned way with a legal pad and a ballpoint pen.
And, then I wrote Rich People Shop Here: A Tale of Love, Redemption, and Bargain Hunting. It tells the stories that my humble mother didn't really want to tell; about how when people in our community were in trouble that she and her friend Boots Jackson would go out and help them, no matter the hour, or the inconvenience, or even the danger. It tells about how her mother abandoned her when she was only 9-years-old and left her with an alcoholic father; and then how she and her husband (my dad) Ronald Welch, started from below zero and then day by day carved out a life for themselves and for us. They did it one day at a time, one duty at a time, with no complaints.
Mom has lived a no excuses life, one that has truly been others-centered. She taught Bible studies in homes and churches for almost half a century until her health began to decline a few years ago and she had to stop. When she wasn't teaching, she was counseling, either in person or on the phone.
She was always a peacemaker, who took the inevitable turmoil that all families face, and turned it into something beautiful. Every year now for almost 30 years she has hosted "Pappy's Christmas," and event she started so that all of our ex family members and, as she calls them, "in-laws and outlaws," could get together and celebrate. It's a wonderful event, and we all look forward to it.
When it became obvious last year that she could not live alone anymore, one of her grandkids came to me and asked if he could take her into his home. It was a true act of kindness, and a selfless sacrifice. She has lived for several months with Brian and his wife Connie and their four daughters. She has been loved, and doted on and taken care of.
And, now, at 84, on this Mother's Day weekend she is in hospice and the clock is ticking down to the end of her life here on this earth. We try to speak every day, but that's getting more and more difficult, given her condition. In one of our talks a few weeks ago, she asked me "Why are all these people being so nice to me?" I said "Well, mom, you've heard that you reap what you sow, right? Well, all through your life you sowed a lot of love, and now you're reaping more love than you can handle."
Just like rich people.