I was poking round a traditional op shop, dark and tiny and located at the back of a shopping strip, when I found a Dutch version of Guess Who? – Wie is Het? – with the beguiling hand written label Improve your German! ‘Tee hee hee,’ I thought, and picked it up to give my kids. They can play Guess Who? just as well with Philippe and Lucas as they can with Richard and George, and with any luck they might even play it in German or Italian or any of the other languages in which they know half a dozen phrases – sadly, like whoever wrote the label, this doesn’t include Dutch.
Then I turned my attention to the stacks of linen, and there, carefully folded, was an Onkaparinga blanket. These gorgeous blankets, incredibly soft and warm, were once manufactured in the Adelaide Hills; they are the stuff of my childhood. This particular one was pink and green and absolutely perfect, so I snaffled it up. On the coldest nights, we sleep under a hodgepodge of picnic rugs and crocheted lap blankets; whenever we have a family stay, we are a blanket or two short; there was no question that we would use it.
Thrilled, I paid for the game and the blanket, then tottered around the corner to pick up something for dinner. At the grocery store, the assistant asked me if I had found the blanket at the op shop. ‘Oh yes,’ I gabbled, ‘I’m delighted – I have three girls and this will be perfect.’
‘I’d hope you’d give it to the homeless,’ she snapped as she totted up the bill.
I stood there gasping, my mind racing in frantic guilt overload – was I really such a thoughtless bitch? – and found myself right back in an argument with my mother, who has been dead these eleven years.
Op shops are for those who need them, she said, and you can afford to shop somewhere else. Stop being so selfish!
But there’s too much stuff in the world, I muttered, and anyway, far more is donated than the op shops can ever sell; the rest has to be shipped overseas or sent to the tip.
The homeless are freezing to death, she said. There are people on the streets who need that blanket!
My kids are cold too, I said, and anyway, the homeless wear their blankets until they are fetid and then throw them away. This is too beautiful to throw away!
So the homeless shouldn’t have beautiful things?, she asked.
And on and on it went. We debated whether op shops are fundraising stores for charities or opportunity shops for the poor; we agreed on the need to limit manufacturing waste and share resources but argued about what that really means.
I couldn’t win. Her voice runs round my head like a broken record.
On the other hand, she’s long dead; perhaps, I thought, I might have the last word on this one. So I tossed my head, stood up straight, and said rather briskly to the shop assistant, ‘We give thousands of dollars to charitable organisations every year; I feel quite good about taking this blanket home.’ Then I grabbed my change and the groceries, gathered up the blanket, and stalked off.
Later, when I unfolded it, I discovered to my delight that it was a double. I have been sleeping under it ever since, tucked in safely with the comforting heaviness I remember from childhood. My daughters are asking to nap under it, and in less than a week it has become a fixture of our household, one of those items that will be used for decades, an object of nurture and care.
And even I can now see that this a good enough use for my mother, their grandmother; she must be pleased. As for those voices in my head who masquerade as her, like the predictable characters in a game of Guess Who? they have yet again been unmasked as demons; they can just fly away.
Until it's time for the next round.