Saturday, February 21, 2015

I want it now

My Dutch grandmother, a woman of scruples, a woman who held fast to her religious beliefs even under pressure, kept camphor balls in her apron pockets during her pregnancies. 

An uncle told me this recently, when I visited him in his retirement home, this uncle, my mother’s younger brother, and one of the only two left now of my mother’s large sib ship of seven. 

I had read a short memoir of his childhood, and somewhere the words: 
‘The unusual habits of mother during her pregnancy, especially in her choice of food, made her vitamin deficient and could have given her children a form of rickets as our dentist pointed out.’ 

I was curious, and asked my uncle about his mother’s strange eating habits and he talked about the lack of vitamin D from the harsh long winters in Holland and how his mother fed her family cod liver oil.  

He did not mention her eating habits, only this peculiarity. 

My uncle described how from time to time, as his mother went about her housework duties, she dipped her hand into her pockets and pulled out a camphor ball.  Then she put it to her nose and breathed in deeply, as if from a snuff box, but only when she was pregnant, my uncle told me, and only when she had those strange cravings that pregnant women can have, not otherwise. 

It seemed an odd habit for a woman of scruples, a woman whose religious observances bordered on the extreme.  Mass every day even in the snow and cold and the rosary every night.  

She was an expert at self-denial.

Self-denial takes practice.  

I remember when I first decided to get a grip on my television watching as a thirteen year old.  I sat in the classroom and the Latin teacher, Mother Eleanor, was going on about the importance of learning our verbs.  About the importance of putting aside time every night to practise them. 

I pitched myself in my mind to the end of the day.  I saw myself come home.  I saw myself go into the kitchen and spread at least four slices of bread with margarine and jam, then I went to the lounge room where my brothers were already stuck in front of the television and I joined them. 

I put my sandwiches on the arm of my chair and eat sandwich after sandwich as first Bugs Bunny, followed by the likes of Daniel Boone or Robin Hood flashed across the screen.  Then my father came home and I bolted, along with everyone else, no longer hungry for dinner, no longer keen on sitting together as a family, but having to go through the dinner ritual regardless. 

During the Latin lesson that day I decided I would stop watching television.  I would give myself time from the moment I came home to do my homework and then I would get good at Latin. 

I would deny myself for a greater good.

They’ve done experiments with small children where they sit each child in front of a lolly and tell them that if they can resist taking that lolly for five minutes – not sure exactly how long, but about five minutes – then they can have two. 

The researchers do this test to demonstrate the development of impulse control and of will power.    

Some kids can do it.  They can hold out for the greater reward but others cannot.  They want it now. 

When I shop with my husband for some item that is of significant value, a new chest of drawers for instance, or a computer upgrade or some such thing, he likes to look, to compare, to consider and then to go home empty handed, with the intention of returning the next day or the day after that once he’s satisfied this is the best thing to buy. 

Me.  I see it.  I examine it and think about it.  I reckon it’s okay.  Enough value for money, a good quality product, it will do the job.  I want it now.  Why wait till tomorrow or the next day to buy it when we agree we need it and can have it now?

In this way we are different.  But over the years I have noticed some of my husband’s caution has crept into me and some of my impulsiveness erupts from him.  Just some. 

My husband is still a great one for window-shopping.  It’s nothing for him to go off to a farmer’s market and come home with some small token, a bunch of radishes for instance, whereas if I were to go to said farmer’s market I’d feel almost compelled to buy stuff we might not need, stuff that interests me perhaps, expensive butter from nearby farms, venison from a local supplier.  We might eat it eventually but we do not need it. 

I will want to buy something for our children, too, but my husband is happy to feast his eyes on the displays and come home empty handed. 

And then I get to another part of my uncle’s memoir where he talks about his mother’s response to the fact that five of her seven children left home as young adults to live far away in Australia, in New Guinea and in Brazil.

‘Every time somebody leaves, it takes away a piece of my heart,’ my Dutch grandmother said.  And no amount of scruples, impulse control or camphor ball sniffing can stop her heart from breaking.   


Birdie said...

That is a very strange thing about the camphor balls. Yikes!

My husband is a planner and I am not. He even brings new things home (like a computer) and lets it sit a day of two before he looks at it. He likes to think on things. It drives me crazy!

PhilipH said...

At least she only had a sniff of the camphor balls and didn't feel the need to EAT one or two!

I'm an impulse buyer. Some regrets over the years from this lack of self control. Not that it really matters of course.

Anthony Duce said...

I want it now too… Always have☺

Jim Murdoch said...

My wife and I are very different in so many ways. The fact that we were brought up on separate continents and twelve years apart is the major contributory factor. You wouldn’t think that at our ages—I’m fifty-five, Carrie’s sixty-seven—twelve years would make much difference (especially since I’m an old fifty-five (hell, I was an old thirteen)) but they do. Scotland and America are, however, very different places despite America’s long reach. I’m your archetypal frugal Scot. I still pick pennies up off the street and I’ll walk to the shops to save the £1.20 [AU$2.36] bus fare which I simply can’t get my head around. I have money, I can afford the fare but just because I have it doesn’t mean I have to spend it.

It was in my teens I learned about the joy of not having, of not seeing, of imagination over reality. It was at that time I got to see a woman naked every day. And I enjoyed seeing a woman naked every day. But the thing was I’d seen her. And it wasn’t that I became bored seeing her—how could anyone get bored with a naked woman?—but I’d seen her. Beforehand I’d imagined her naked and I’m not saying that seeing her naked was a disappointment—it was a naked woman and how could anyone be disappointed with a naked woman?—but I’d seen her. I couldn’t see her again. Not in the same way. And the truth of it was I actually was a bit disappointed. That’s the problem with reality.

After a while I started to realise that I didn’t get quite the kick out of doing/seeing/having that I maybe did when I was a kid when life was all about doing, seeing and having. I’m not saying that I’d experienced a whole lot—really I’ve experienced very little—but I stopped getting quite so excited about the prospect because I pretty much expected to be disappointed. Nothing ever lived up to the hype. That doesn’t mean I stopped doing things and buying stuff and found a dark cave to contemplate my navel in but I started to resist my initial urges; I started to distrust my initial urges.

I find the science of product placement a fascinating one. It doesn’t work on me. I go into a shop and buy what I set out to buy. That doesn’t mean I won’t buy things I notice in passing but I have a reusable orange plastic bag and that’s as much as I ever buy. I’m highly resistant to impulse buying. I couldn’t tell you the last time I picked up something standing at the checkout. I’d think, 62p [AU$1.22] for a Mars Bar! and that would be enough. I know I can go to a pound store and get four for a quid if I was that desperate for a Mars Bar and then I think about how many calories are in a Mars Bar and that pretty much puts the kibosh on that.

Carrie spends money with greater ease that me although she can still suffer from buyer’s remorse. I watch her buy things all the time—Christ knows how many projects she has on the go—and then see them lie around gathering dust. I knew when she bought the exercise mat it would never get used, well, maybe once or twice but I still used my staff discount (I was working at the time) and got her it. I wouldn’t have bought it. Certainly not right away. I’d wait until the… until the crush turned into love, if I can put it that way. When I was at secondary school I had crushes on dozens of girls and often at the same time. Of course at that age I imagined I was in love with them all but you can’t be in love with more than one person at the time (so they say) and so this had to be something else, something less. Only a crush is not less; it’s different. Crushes are exciting and last a long time. They’re things to revel in as long as you keep reality out of arm’s reach so it doesn’t spoil everything.

Now I see stuff I’d like but I never, not even online where spending is made SO easy, buy anything on the spur of the moment. I drool over it for a while. Once I get over that stage and realise I really need the thing then I might actually knuckle down and buy it. Unless it’s something essential like a new laptop. But then a computer stopped being a luxury item—at least in this household—years ago.

Kirk said...

If I won the lottery, I wouldn't spend the millions on a yacht or a mansion. Just on the freedom to go to a store geared to the middle-class and impulse shop to my heart's content.

Kass said...

Such an interesting grandmother.

I wonder sometimes if the acquiring of 'goods' is really an attempt to make an emotional purchase (enhancement, worth): the physicalization of intent serving as a reinforcing ritual.