Shopping With The Warden

On my birthday getaway with my husband, I discovered this sign in an antique store.

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Indeed. The first few years spent with my financially astute man were exactly like that. It’s not that we fit the stereotype of the shopping crazed wife and the stingy husband. I don’t shop for recreation and stay away from the mall unless I need something. When I do go, I can’t stand all the noise and lights and over stimulation of too many choices for longer than about two hours, tops. I seldom buy anything that isn’t on sale.

No, our conflict was about shopping styles. I view the shopping experience as a chance to stop and look at things, even if I don’t intend to buy them. So if we were shopping for shoes for me, I might be distracted by the sweater display, or stop to admire the dresses. This was unacceptable to the warden accompanying me, who preferred to shop commando style. If we came into the store for shoes, the mission was to go straight to the shoes, looking neither to the right nor the left, try on the shoes, buy the shoes and leave. No loitering. No lingering. No side trips. Because we were poor students, I understood the thinking behind not buying things we didn’t need, but looking is free, and not looking took the fun out of the whole thing.

Anyway we got very good at living close to the bone. During our three years at seminary we lived on $400 a month, which even several decades ago didn’t go very far. But we got by with three part time jobs between us, plus a lot of frugality and ingenuity. Our need for an electric typewriter coincided with a spike in silver and gold prices, so we sold our high school class rings and a few old coins to finance the purchase of a floor model.

At our first church after seminary, the starting salary was meager. But my husband, with a knack for money management that I don’t possess, got us into our first home, a 900 square foot bargain. Interest rates had peaked at 18%, but we were able to assume a loan at 12.25%. The house had issues. The exterior had been painted Pepto Bismol pink by the seller, to make it more attractive to buyers. Seriously. Violent pink, my uncle called it. The interior sported dreadful wallpaper with green and orange trellises, an ancient kitchen, and an odd tiny second bath with only a toilet in it. There was an extra gate in the back fence so the elderly couple who lived behind us could tramp through our back yard to go to church across the street from us. It was easier for them than walking around the block. All in all, the house was one big project, but we were in. We were homeowners.

This purchase kept us on a frugal path while engendering multitudes of shopping trips as we made the house our own. We remodeled the kitchen, fixed up a nursery, and began the never-ending process of feeding and clothing our two babies. The warden decreed we must keep track of every penny we spent, turning in receipts at the end of the day. We used credit cards as a convenience, but vowed we’d never pay one cent of interest. And we haven’t. These habits enabled us to stretch our slender resources pretty far. I learned to be grateful for the warden, who was always looking beyond the moment to the future, for the good of our family. He kept us focused.

In the world of hunting and wildlife management, game wardens get a bad rap. They’re seen as killjoys. But they’re necessary. The warden, or the threat of the warden’s appearance, makes hunters follow the rules. Truthfully, we all need wardens, even if we’re not hunters. We need something or someone to keep us from eating too much, spending too much, wasting our time too much, or whatever we’re tempted to do too much of. Spouses can be wardens in positive ways, keeping each other accountable.

So what did my warden do when I showed him the above-mentioned sign at the antique store? He laughed. Because after thirty-seven years, we enjoy browsing together. No more commando shopping. We wandered the antique store, enjoying the discoveries of objects from our childhoods that are now considered old and collectible. We found several candidates for The Ugliest Lamp in the World. We looked, laughed, and bought a gorgeous cobalt blue votive holder.

It was a lovely shopping trip with the warden.

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