Like many Asian mothers, my Mama shows her affection best through food. She knows my boyfriend Gavin loves peanuts, so at one point she was buying him two 48-ounce jars of crunchy Jif Peanut Butter every two weeks, along with equally-Costco-sized cans of honey roasted peanuts and mixed nuts.
Charmin toilet paper. Eight-pound pork bellies. Two-pound bags of Lindor Truffles. Ten pounds of pork ribs. Nine-pound prime ribs. Three packs of Glad Press and Seal Wrap. It’s hard for me to think of anything my Mama won’t buy in bulk at Costco or Sam’s Club. She seems to struggle to buy one of anything actually, a habit she developed from owning a gas station in a Denver suburb for nearly 40 years.
She’s a Costco legend in the metro area. Before my parents retired last year, Gavin and I would cruise the aisles with her every Sunday and tune in to her insider insight on what was about to go on sale and what items she’s found at a lower price at other stores. The employees would greet her with hugs as she’d exclaim things like “Joan! Why you work on Sunday?” and “Hello! Yes, I’m back again!” in her distinctive accent.
A hoarder of housewares, my Mama can’t turn down affordably priced kitchen appliances and accessories. Reminiscent of a makeshift TJMaxx, her basement is stocked with ceramic bowl and steak knife sets, immersion blenders, coffee grinders, cupcake tins and ice tea-making kits. There’s also perfumes and anti-aging creams — coveted items for my aunties to stuff their suitcases with when they visit — rolls and rolls of wrapping paper and ribbons, and Christmas décor.
My Mama used to gift the contents of her basement to customers over the Christmas holiday. From late November through early January, her regular customers would leave the gas station with a 16-ounce Mountain Dew in one hand and a toaster topped with a bow in the other or a pack of Marlboro Lights and a new margarita glass set. We’d stuff dozens and dozens of kitchenware boxes in the car for her to transport the less than 2 miles to the gas station to distribute to grateful patrons.
To her, giving back during the holiday would bring us good luck for the next year — but her generosity never ended after Christmas. Throughout the year, my Mama scouted out sales at different grocery stores to pack her car with cases of items for the local food bank, from boxes of macaroni and cheese to bottles of barbecue sauce and cans of organic chicken noodle soup. Her Mercedes SUV was always stuffed with oodles of plastic bags overflowing with random goods.
When we sold the gas station last March, the new owners refused to purchase the inventory last-minute, so my mom donated the entire back section of the store — a total of 45 boxes of non-perishable food and household items — to the local food bank.
For my and Gavin’s upcoming wedding, she’s insisting on gifting every guest that attends our small ceremony in Las Vegas a kitchen item from her basement despite all of my arguments (How are people going to get lug, say a Crock-Pot, home if they don’t want to check a big? How are you going to transport all of the boxes there? What if they already have a cheese grater set?). Apparently the customized beer koozies and playing cards Gavin and I want to give out aren’t enough …