Upon turning eighty, writer Joseph Epstein took inventory of his suits, shoes, and overcoats. His assessment? No need to buy more. "These should see me out", he said.
Epstein's poignant, witty essay moved both Mike and me. Eighty is still two decades away, but the idea that there's a point where certain purchases no longer make sense stuck with us.
We kidded about it in a light hearted way. For some reason we had accumulated box upon box of Q-tips, a Costco shopping brain glitch. The last time I opened the cupboard and saw those untold numbers of little white reminders of absent-minded shopping, I said to Mike: "No need to buy more Q-tips. These will see us out." We laughed about the Q-tips and laughed about the idea.
Then we went shopping for a new dining set for our patio.
When it comes to patio furniture, we've always gone low-budget. It's Minnesota, after all. The summer is short, the winter harsh. Outdoor furniture takes a beating no matter what. So we always bought cheap, and when the wood rotted or the metal rusted, out it went.
Something happened this time on the way to buy a cheap table and chairs. We discovered a new kind of patio furniture made of nearly indestructible composite material. "It's guaranteed for twenty years!" crowed the young salesman, not much beyond twenty himself.
Furniture guaranteed to last until we are eighty? He had my attention.
I walked slowly around the large rectangular table, with comfortable chairs at each end and benches along the sides. Benches that allow you to squeeze in one more. I imagined our sturdy-backed little grandchildren lined up on those benches. A dining set built for overflowing capacity.
It was perfect. I wanted it at once.
Mike took a different, very sensible view. He looked at the price, which was at least four times what we have ever paid for such furniture. Then he did the math. He figured out the cost per use, based how many times per year we would likely use the set over the next twenty years. His estimate? About $10 a time, in a best-case scenario.
I am a sucker for best-case scenarios. And I thought that $10 per use sounded just fine.
We bought it.
On the ride home, we both had the same thought. "This will see us out" we agreed. And although we were smiling, it was not the same as talking about Q-tips.
Furniture can come with a twenty year guarantee but there's no such guarantee for people. Not for twenty years, not for ten years, not even for a day.
What happens if Mike outlives me by many years? Will he still troop out to the patio for dinner with the family? I picture myself in some heavenly realm calling out to them, "Hey you guys! It's a gorgeous day! Go eat dinner outside!" But there they are, sitting in the air-conditioned kitchen, and no one can hear me.
Back to the here and now. The dining set awaits, ready to hold our family, our friends, our food, our laughter, and our memories for the next two decades.
And now, in addition to all the usual reasons that we pray for health and long life, Mike and I have a new one. We want to outlast the damn patio furniture!