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Mama’s versatile bargain came in handy more than once

POSTED: October 30, 2011 12:30 a.m.

There are lots of shows on TV these days where folks find all sorts of stuff in junk piles and yard sales.

My late mother could have covered several hours of programming. She was a voracious bargain hunter. Sometimes her logic behind her purchases was a bit baffling, but I can still smile when I think about them. 

For those of you who don’t know me, I am neither tall nor thin. This may surprise you because I write in the voice of a tall and thin man.

Mama would go to a thrift sale that benefited a Jewish community center in Atlanta. I was the recipient of several secondhand suits that were custom tailored for someone in the Jewish community who was about my size. I wore them proudly to the Baptist church. We were ecumenical in our thriftiness.

Mama also had a philosophy that sometimes two nonworking appliances would yield one that worked. She had a very fine looking steam iron at the house one day.

“Does it work?” I asked her.

“Not yet,” she replied. “But look at it. The cord is worth 50 cents by itself.”

I wanted to ask her if she took the cord to the bank would they give her 50 cents. I didn’t have the nerve to ask.

At this time of year, I often think of mama’s greatest bargain. It was an Arabic-looking headdress with a long flowing cape down the back. It had an elastic rope that wrapped around your head to hold it in place.

It was bright green satin. My guess is that it may have belonged to someone in a Shrine club. 

That thing was used from the time she bought it until we stopped going door-to-door for Halloween.

We were sheiks, pirates and several characters that no one could readily identify. If you suddenly realized it was Halloween and didn’t have a costume, we would go grab the headdress and head out for trick-or-treating.

My mother’s thriftiness also extended to haircuts. 

When we moved to Social Circle, the lone barber was Mr. Aub McClain. I don’t know how old he was, but I thought he was ancient. When you’re 8, everybody over 25 is ancient. 

For a couple of bucks, Mr. Aub would cut your hair with a pair of electric clippers that had a vacuum attachment to suck the hair just as soon as he clipped it. 

This was in the late ’60s, when young boys were trying to “grow their hair out.” (Does anyone grow their hair “in?”)

My hair was just on the verge of touching my ears when Mama took me to Mr. Aub. When he finished there was a good three inches between my ears and my hairline. I was devastated. 

For the next day or two, I covered the damage with that headdress. In time, it grew back. 

Years later, I became the shoe shine boy in a remodeled shop that was owned by Johnny O’Kelly, with Mr. Aub as the second barber. 

I never mentioned that haircut and he never cut my hair again. But thinking about it rekindled a great memory of my mama’s greatest bargain. I wish I knew what happened to that old thing. 

I would have worn it while writing this column.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.



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