Christmas Shopping with Uncle Cecil

Dec 11, 2013 | 1 comment

Sydney and Uncle Cecil 1979

Sydney and Uncle Cecil, 1979

I am not a shopper.  Never have been.  Not like my friend Pat who really enjoys looking, comparing, mentally filing away quality and prices for future reference.  To me, she is the quintessential shopper and it’s no wonder that her new store in Astoria, Forsythea Home and Garden, is a buyer’s paradise.  Her skills work both ways.

I’m pretty sure my lack of interest and ability along those lines is genetically related on the Espy side.  Take my great-uncle Cecil, for instance.  He was the First Vice President of the U.S. National Bank in Portland back in the days when being a banker was considered a “comfortable” living – not to be associated with the CEOs of today who make obscene amounts of money at our expense.

When Uncle Cecil retired at age 70 in 1957, he moved back to Oysterville to live in the R.H. Espy House – the house where he had grown up in the 1880s and ’90s.  For the next twenty-five years he slept in the bed in which he had been born, maintained the house and garden, and took care of the Oysterville Cemetery.  By the time I moved here full time, he had given up driving.  He walked to my folks’ house for dinner once or twice a week and my mother took him grocery shopping several times a month.  Otherwise, he was fiercely independent.

Sometimes, I would accompany my mom and Uncle Cecil on those shopping forays to Jack’s Country Store.  He always had a list and, as far as I could tell, it always had the same general items on it:  cans of vegetables, cans of soup, some sort of fresh fruit (if the pears and apples and plums from his own trees had all been eaten or canned or given away) and maybe some tooth powder.

No matter how short his list, the shopping process was always interminable.  Uncle Cecil looked at each potential purchase, looked at the price, compared brands, shook his head many times, and returned each item to the shelf.  He was adamant that the prices were too high and that he didn’t need whatever it was after all.  Eventually, Mom would convince him to get at least a few of the things on his list and she would then sneak a few more items into his cart.  No matter what the total came to, of course, it was too much.  Way too much.

R.H. House Front Detail 1984

R.H. Espy House, 1984

Once, for some occasion or other, we took Uncle Cecil to the Shelburne for dinner.  It was in the days that David was importing antiques from England by the container load and all of the furniture in the dining room – tables, chairs, sideboards etc. – was for sale.  Uncle Cecil got a big kick out of looking at the price tags.  I remember that he even got up and turned his chair over to see what David was asking for it.

“Why!” he said in great disbelief, “my furniture must be worth a fortune!”  He was probably right if the prices were based on vintage and style.  And, if what I’ve learned on Antiques Road Show is accurate, Uncle Cecil’s furniture might have been worth even more.  After all, in most cases he knew its provenance and not many items (if any) had ever been refinished.

When I returned from Portland yesterday with one small bag containing three very small items, I thought of Uncle Cecil.  I had looked, I had compared, I had shaken my head and I had come home with very few articles on my list.  It’s definitely genetic.

1 Comment

  1. Stephanie Frieze

    I enjoy “window shopping” which is to say shopping with my girlfriend for nothing in particular–maybe finding a treasure, maybe not. I don’t like the pressure of having to find things for people for Christmas. We carry with us these images of Christmas magic–if we are fortunate enough to have had indulgent parents–and a desire to make someone’s heart sing. Just today I took back and item I’d purchased for my daughter-in-law as I’d become convinced that something else I’d seen when shopping would make her much happier. Although I love getting bargains on First Tuesday at Fred Meyer, I do not like doing that kind of huge shopping as it makes me tired getting things into the cart and then struggling to get it to the cashier. When they say, “Would you like help to your car?” I always say, “Can they come home with me and put all this away?” Don’t even get me started on toy shopping. Most of it is junk, probably made by child labor in China and toxic in the bargain. The little kids always think they want something they’ve seen advertised on television. If it has batteries or is just another something-that-will-need-to-be-picked-up I can’t get it. I might as well go throw my money in the street.

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