Monday, November 17, 2008
The Ambiguous Virtue of Thrift
My friend Mrs. T at Fine Old Famly has indulged me by writing a post on one of my favorite topics, bargain-shopping at the grocery store. I've found since moving that, now that we're out of the orbit of the greater New York metropolitan area, we have also been freed from the grip of the Gotham Dairy Cartel. For reasons I could never fathom, dairy products are amazingly expensive in New York City. I never bought Land-O-Lakes butter in New York, for instance, although it's my favorite butter, because it cost $5.99 a pound in the local supermarket. Here, it's $2.99, so I buy two pounds at a time.
I've always found bargain-hunting, whether for groceries or anything else, to be a fun and exciting adventure. Most of my fabulous college teaching wardrobe was culled from thrift stores, as were many of my recital gowns, including the one I wore at my dissertation recital last spring, a vintage Pauline Trigère evening dress from the 1960s. I even bought my wedding dress at a thrift shop, a strange and remarkable experience which must be saved for another telling, for $200. (It happened to be the shop in the basement of Fallen Sparrow's favorite haunt for weekday Mass, a Church that I believe is redolent with graces.) That's me in the dress, above.
So I thought nothing of walking over to the local Catholic Charities thrift shop the other day, with my two-year-old in the stroller, to get a few shirts for his new two-mornings-a-week nursery school. When we got there, the place was packed, which seemed unusual, but I found some very nice things for him in good condition. I got onto a long line to pay, and when I got to the counter, the volunteer staff lady asked for my paperwork. I didn't understand, and she explained that Wednesday was "voucher day"; apparently certain social service programs here include a clothing allotment, which Catholic Charities offers to provide. She let me pay, since I had exact change, but I left feeling like I had done the wrong thing. Maybe getting the nicest possible thing for the least amount of money is no virtue if others need it more than you. I felt like I was taking something that belonged to someone else. It made me wonder if thrift really is a virtue, or just a perversion of Yankee individualism.