I thought it would be easy to think of purchases that were the best money I ever spent, but the ideas were surprisingly hard to come by. The few things I came up with either make my life easier (steam mop, baby sling) or are especially cozy or comfortable in some way (my favorite fuzzy brown coat that reminds me of Ranger, our chocolate lab, a down blanket I really like). There was one exception: my grandmother's stamp collection.
My grandmother died yesterday. Her name is Wilma, and at 95 was my last remaining grandparent. She was not a warm and fuzzy grandma. When I was afraid to go down in the basement by myself as a child, she would say, "Are you afraid of the boogeyman? Don't be. If he gets you, he'll see what he's got and bring you right back." I don't remember her for great cooking, extravagant presents, or any of the other standard grandmotherly activities. I remember beauty pageants and soap operas on television, and stamps.
Wilma collected stamps for many years. Through the depression years when she and my grandfather ran a small country store and took in friend after friend down on his or her luck. Through the war years when she learned to run heavy industrial equipment in a factory. Through the years her six kids were growing up in an primitive house on an Oregon homestead farm.
I, too, had a stamp collection, starting in about fourth grade. My own collection fit in a small box, and I was always enthusiastic about looking at my grandmother's stamps when I would go to visit. She had a huge box full of sheet after sheet of old-fashioned stamps, decades old.
After I graduated from college, she asked me if I wanted to buy them. Her eyesight was getting worse and she wasn't able to enjoy them as much as she used to. They were fairly valuable and I had a thousand more sensible things I could have done with that money: student loans, grad school, saving for a house, travel. But I bought the stamps and never regretted it.
I could go on and on about the stamps. In fact, I have. Somewhere around here I have an essay I wrote many years ago and submitted to a now-defunct women's magazine. The essay has the distinction of having earned the nicest, most encouraging rejection slip I have ever received. But I think I will just say goodbye, Grandma. I don't watch Miss America or One Life to Live anymore, but we'll always have the stamps.