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What’s not to love about a visit to the local hair salon for a cut n’ color... a soothing environment with soft music, good lighting, free seltzer water, a restful scalp massage, and most important, engaging chit-chat.

After 20 years with the same stylist, I feel like Mary and I know each other exceptionally well. Spanning the ages, we’ve talked about virtually everything life can throw our way...child rearing, dog loving, husband-ing, and most recently, mothering our mothers. In fact, the latter is a top conversation contender in most of our multi-hour visits.

During last week’s C&C, I asked Mary what her mother does all day while she’s home alone. I was, and wasn’t, surprised when her response was “paperwork.” I had to laugh out loud. It was like we were speaking in secret caretaker-code and I knew exactly what she meant. Both of us decode “paperwork” into meaning sorting through the mail. Our mothers get buried in it once a day, and there’s not one piece I’d keep if it landed in my own mailbox.

Most of my 91-year-old mother’s friends are gone now, so paper correspondence arriving via mail is minimal. Mom’s Super Senior status leaves her with a consistent, predictable and manageable set of bills which don’t account for much of her daily mail. No, the bulk of Mom’s mail is actually, well, bulk mail.... not a true postage stamp to be found.

Priority pieces stamped with exciting news like “You’ve Won!!!” and “Sweepstakes Winner!!” get opened first. I can see the reasoning there... who wouldn’t want to take a shortcut to financial freedom – even at 91? After Mom submits her winning entry, and knowing that she will soon have a million dollars, she’s well positioned to open what I call, the “guilt mail”. First, she opens the envelopes, and then she opens her pocketbook.

Mom’s enormous heart can get pretty pricey. Her generosity is divvied up among the causes she holds dear.... hungry children, abused animals, war veterans, cures for cancer, Native Americans, educational programs for the poor, saving the planet, World Peace, and of course, the Democratic National Committee. By the time you’re 91, I guess you’ve amassed A LOT of causes.

God bless her, Mom gives each seeker $2.00 to $5.00. Checks cost about $.50, but this minimal loss is offset by another item she receives regularly which is free-money mail with bona fide dollar bills showing through the return address window. How could anyone NOT open that? Isn’t it against the law to send US currency through the mail? And why doesn’t the mail carrier just hoard those pieces and keep the $$$? It’s not like the intended recipients would miss it.  

Let’s call ‘em what they are... SCAMS! And there’s probably nothing I can do about them. Despite my frustration with the gross manipulation of my mother’s emotional heartstrings by these groups, I do respect her incredible generosity and social concern.

As with most things, the junk mail saga does have an upside. My mother takes her “paperwork” very seriously. She reads each piece carefully, decides its worthiness, writes her checks, (balancing her checkbook as she goes along), shreds (by hand) all remnants, stamps and addresses the envelopes, and then places the mass of mail on the stair for Tina to pick up. With the processing of so much paper, Mom’s recycling effort also becomes an important part of her routine. All of this activity keeps her sharp as a tack and gives her a sense of purpose.

Back at the salon, Mary and I share our conversation with other patrons who feel compelled to describe their own mothers’ daily experience with paperwork. Apparently, we are not alone, and all of us seem to recognize the importance of this process. Who knows...maybe someday down the line, we’ll be thanking our mothers for taking the time to submit their winning entries. After all, you gotta play to win.


Emily GaffneyComment