It was a bright, fall Saturday afternoon when I set out to do some errands, including buying a wedding shower gift for a friend.
It wasn't the first stop on my list of places to touch down, and as I pulled into the Sears parking lot I had a sense of accomplishment so far. I had found a dress that I could afford for an upcoming gala, and Christmas presents for two out of six grandchildren. I felt encouraged and cheery.
As I entered the front doors of Sears, it was evident that the store was in full Christmas swing. A few minutes earlier I had felt one step ahead, but the Christmas trees, fully decorated and lit, and the Christmas carols playing over the P.A. system, served to inject me with low level panic and I bought another Christmas gift on the way to my destination, to stave off the anxiety.
I found the escalator and mounted it, clutching my wrapped Christmas gift and got off at the housewares floor. It was crowded up there and I felt mildly claustrophobic as I scanned the maze of displays and jostling people. I found the Bridal Registry. It had a note taped to the front that said, "Printer is very slow." That was a metaphor for my next desperate half hour.
The printer wasn't actually as slow as the note promised. I theorized that they just wanted to discourage people from printing off the lists. It took me only three tries, following the computer's instructions, to find the right person's registry file, and the printer delivered 4 blue sheets of paper printed with gifts that the bride and groom-to-be had chosen.
Registries are a good idea--in theory. They limit the possibility of duplicate or unwanted gifts and help you find gifts in the right colours. But from that point on the theory goes awry.
I scanned the list of chosen gifts, and found those in my price range. Then, with several possible options in mind, clutching my sheaf of blue sheets, I headed in the direction of Kitchen Wares.
I started by looking for a slow cooker. They are invaluable tools in a kitchen. Suddenly I was surrounded by woks, kettles, rice cookers, coffee makers, toasters and blenders--but the slow cookers seemed to have gone into hiding. No problem; I switched strategies and started looking for a kettle--not just any kettle; the right kettle of course. Every conceivable make of kettle except the one I was looking for seemed to shine at me from the shelves. They looked lovely and I was tempted to just pick up one I liked, except that I didn't think that would work with a registry. Someone else, more skilled at kettle hunting than me, might buy the kettle that the happy couple had picked out and then they'd have two. I switched to toasters; same result. Where all of the Hamilton Beach toasters were hiding, I don't know, but they weren't on the shelves, I'm sure they weren't.
I gave up on Kitchen Wares and wandered over to the bedding and towel department. It wasn't any easier. I felt as though a conspiracy to drive me crazy was afoot and it was succeeding. I hunted for the particular Whole Home fitted sheet; sateen; in Pine Cone, on the list. I wandered the rows of sheets: 400 thread count; 320 thread count; 200 thread count--the shelves loomed high and endless. I began to cast about for assistance. Wild eyed by now, I found a victim to latch onto, a pleasant looking middle aged sales woman who was pottering around by a cash register. "Help!" I cried, "I need help."
She spoke to me calmly and reassuringly and said that this wasn't her department but she would be glad to help if I gave her a minute. I exhaled, feeling that there was hope after all. I passed the list over to her and followed her back to the sheet shelves. She began to wander the shelves, following my earlier footsteps. She peered at the item number on the list and we both stood in front of the shelf with the right make and thread count, but with every item number except the one on the list. She agreed with me when I shared my feelings about registries.
"Wait a moment," she said, "I'll go and get help," and she left with the blue sheets, to find someone who worked in the bedding department. I continued looking through the slippery plastic bags of bed sheets and gasped as my eyes fell on the prize; a fitted bottom sheet in Pine Cone that neither of us had been able to find moments earlier! I quickly ran to find the sales woman but she had vanished from sight in the maze of shelves. I went back and waited obediently for her return like a child who had lost her mother.
When she returned, it was with another sales woman. This one was also middle aged, with dyed blond hair that was coloured pink on the ends. She wore heavy black eye liner around her eyes and a red satin scarf around her neck. She took charge of the list with a confident air and the first woman, having safely handed me over, went back to her department. What a God-send this woman was. She was thrilled to have something to do and she quickly scanned the list and made suggestions for combinations of items that would work. Together we hunted for them, but she knew what she was doing. In no time I had a pillow and beautiful towel to add to my bottom sheet and she was ringing them up for me. When I thanked her she said, "That's what I'm here for." I could have hugged her.
The next day; Sunday; the shower was held in the afternoon, at the church the bride-to-be attends. I sat beside a friend from my own church, a woman a few years older than me, who retired a few years ago from nursing. I mention this only to point out that she is an intelligent woman. There was a lovely lunch of sandwiches and squares, and several games.
In conversation, the bride-to-be mentioned that the registry was put together after her fiance was given a scanner to zap the bar codes of items they needed. I'm thinking that there has to be an easier way to connect would be purchasers with the items on the list, besides the torture of wandering endless aisles, looking for the grain of sand on the beach of potential selected items.
After the cake was cut and served with coffee, the opening of the gifts began, with the accompanying cards being read out. When the card from the friend sitting next to me was read out, and the gift opened, I noticed she had bought the same distinctive green checkered Roots towel I had bought. "Did you go to Sears?" I asked. She nodded. I laughed and asked how she had managed with the registry. She howled and rolled her eyes. She told me that she had been so overcome with exhaustion that she had to ask if there was somewhere she could sit down while a sales woman took over from her and searched for items. I took perverse comfort in knowing that she was a fellow victim of the torture disguised as the Bridal Registry.