This is a store that awes and overwhelms. Bright lights, frigid air conditioning, clever appliances for every need you never even knew you had. There is an entire wall of towels in every size and color and texture. Rows and rows of pillow cases and sheet sets, floor to ceiling all-in-one packets that sell sheets and blankets together for a matched look. I'm sure we looked pretty clueless because a personable attendant came to our rescue with a "get-ready-for-college" checklist. We were incredulous. Here we thought we were looking for a set of sheets, a towel, and a blanket . . but in fact there was a list of about a hundred items in all sorts of categories. And on the sidebar, a list of "essentials" which included such things as a hot-air popcorn popper and a bathrobe and other items which Luke has survived his entire life without. He was appropriately skeptical. Then she came back with a computer-generated 5 pages of Yale-specific info. I am not making this up. It included mapquest driving directions from campus to the nearest branch of this store chain. I'm not a very savvy or patient shopper, and Luke has about 1% of my interest and stamina. So within a few minutes of wandering the aisles with these lists trying to picture life in a dorm we've never seen, we were both about to hyperventilate. All the colorful things looked very girl-y, and all the masculine things were drearily dull. The couple of neutral beautiful items we noted were terribly expensive. Suddenly Luke pointed out a sale item high in a corner, and said, let's take it, an all-in-one package. The name of the pattern was "Luka". We hoped it was a divine sign. Julia put the bulky package on her head to walk to the cash register, and suddenly our helpful attendant was back with a shopping cart. Note to missionaries: Americans don't carry shopping items on their heads.
We checked out and headed home, feeling very pleased that we'd made some progress, and saved about 50% with the various discounts. But as soon as we got back, Luke realized how peculiar this brown/aqua set would look with his red African masai blanket and his home-made bright kitengi quilt. He was immediately awash with doubt, disturbed by spending money on these things and feeling that he'd sold out his African decor. And then we discovered that Yale offered a good deal on simple sheet-and-blanket sets that would be delivered right to the dorm room, plain colors which would be enhanced by his things from home. So today we ordered that set and returned the Bed-Bath-and Beyond set.
So was it a total exercise in futility? I don't think so. It was an eye-opener experience. College prep is big business. This life-transition is being marketed, heavily. I'm glad Luke has lived two years in a dorm, far from home, and knows just how little a person actually needs day to day. I'm glad he's questioning the culture of consumerism, has the confidence to reject much of what he sees and hears. And I'm glad he went back out with me today, and ALL his siblings (how many high school grads tolerate that) to buy two pairs of jeans, two shirts, and a few T-shirts and pairs of underwear. Because not all purchasing is greed, and you can't go to a Northeastern University wearing only bathing-suit shorts and worn t-shirts year-round. This was probably the first time in his life he chose new clothes at a store, rather than wearing whatever was sent to him by grandmothers or passed on from used clothes. We managed to keep it quick and efficient in the limited shopping attention span, and survive the sibling audience to boot. I'm glad for the helpful store clerks we've encountered, unexpected friendliness, which reminds me that this is what America is also known for, that gregarious openness. I'm most especially glad for the generous friends who have sent him gifts, so that he can start this new phase of life with fresh sheets and new jeans, a cell phone (soon), . . . . and maybe we'll even talk him into shoes.