Mom Shops Moscow

Janis LeForge

© Copyright 2022 by Janis LeForge


Photo of Janis.

Photo of Janis.

My mother was passionate about shopping. She’s gone now but I remember she shopped everywhere she went and anytime. Garage sales, department stores, grocery stores (she loved coupons), drug stores, the mall, craft fairs, boutiques, at home or on vacation. In her day there was no online shopping. She loved the thrill of discovering a bargain. Shopping with her was always an experience. Sometimes it was fun like a garage sale/thrift store treasure hunt. Over the years there were many great finds.

She has both surprised and embarrassed me while shopping. Once I was witness to her bend in half, back and forth until it broke, her Goldblatts credit card in front of a shocked clerk. I don’t remember exactly why she was mad. She did inform the dumbstruck woman that she would not be shopping in their store ever again. I wonder, was this the first nail in the coffin for the now defunct and disappeared Goldblatts?

This story is about a shopping adventure we had in Moscow, Russia in May 1999. I was drafted to accompany my mother to replace her friend Shirley who had a stroke just weeks before their planned departure. The two of them had booked a non-refundable long anticipated eleven- day river cruise of Russia. My grandparents were Russian immigrants who always told fascinating stories about the old country, I was curious to see some of the places they raved about, so I agreed to go in Shirley’s place.

Fast forward to Moscow, Russia. This particular day our tour group was on an outing to see the Kremlin, the Moscow Metro (subway) system and Red Square. We followed our guide Rita by watching for her unopened umbrella raised high above her head. It was like daycare for senior citizens.

The Moscow Metro is called “The Palace of the People”. It was built to impress. The stations have different decorations: murals, or mosaics, or bas-reliefs and huge chandeliers- just magnificent. There are twelve transit lines around and through a large circle covering the city. Our boat was docked on the river at the end of the green line.

While in Red Square we saw St. Basils Cathedral with its colorful spires and nine domes, Lenin’s mausoleum, and a huge building that was not on our tour. It was called “GUM” department store. Rita claimed it was the largest department store in the world. This statement was like waving a red cape in front of a bull. At that moment my mother became determined to pay it a visit. She was not leaving Moscow without shopping at “GUM”.

Up to this point on the cruise the shopping had been limited. There was a small gift shop on the boat. It had already been the source of a few souvenirs, a Russian(nesting) Matryoshka doll and a black lacquer box with a fairy tale painted on the lid. Near some of our stops along the river there were artists with small paintings and some rustic crafts for sale. There was very little that excited her shopping genes. I purchased two watercolors that now hang over my bed.

The following day our group was scheduled to tour some churches. Rita was somehow convinced (or paid) by my mother that we could find our own way to Red Square and “GUM”.
I’m not sure how, but we got the OK.

I should note: I had taken freshman year Russian language class (over 30 years before this trip) and my mother claimed she could understand (but not speak) Russian from listening to her parents. As fate would have it, we both failed in all attempts to read or speak Russian much more than “yes” “no” or “thank you”. Anyway, a determined shopper could not be stopped in her quest by mere lack of language skills.

We managed to get to Red Square and “GUM” with no problems. We felt so proud of ourselves. The architecture of “GUM” was truly grand. Built in 1890 – 1893 it is steel framework with a glass roof. Unfortunately, that was as remarkable as it got. It was all down-hill from there. The inside was not like any department store we had ever seen. It was more like a flea market with hundreds of small little shops. One stall might offer scarves and another toilet paper. There were long lines of people waiting to buy everyday essentials. There was nothing to interest a tourist-not even a postcard. We were disappointed to say the least.

We headed back to our boat empty handed. Oh no! We did not realize there were four Metro stations on Red Square. In our haste to get to “GUM” we had not made note of where we got off the Metro. Which station took us to where our boat was docked? We had a map of the Metro system with our stop circled, but we were not able to decipher it. We had a 1 in 4 chance of picking the right station. We got on where we thought it looked familiar. After riding for some time and seeming to be heading out of the city, we got off. We were lost in a crowd at an unfamiliar station. It was almost time to panic.

We stood out in the drab sea of humanity who were all dressed in black, grey, or brown clothing. My mother was wearing a pink windbreaker and me a red sweater. There was no in person station information booth or ticket taker in sight. We tried holding up our map and pointing to where we were trying to go. People just ignored us and hustled bye to their own destinations. We were starting to question the reason for our predicament. Did we really need to shop at the risk of getting lost, missing our boat, possibly getting robbed or killed? We started to turn on each other. Whose brilliant idea was this anyway?

Suddenly out of the masses like the calvary coming to the rescue, came four young boys (14 or 15 years old). They were dressed in navy and white what looked like military or school uniforms. They were all smiling and acting friendly. They greeted us with a cheery “Hello Americans!”

We showed them our map and they motioned for us to follow them. Mom and I looked at each other, should we? We were desperate. We let them guide us. My heart was pounding. Where were they leading us? The trip back was nerve wracking, we changed trains twice and just kept up with the boys on blind faith. They eventually got us to the station near our boat. We were so
grateful. We tried to reward them for their kindness, but they refused the money we offered and just waved goodbye. Maybe they were the Russian version of Boy Scouts.

We started walking down the dock towards our boat. There were three or four other boats like ours lined up along the pier. Since her shopping itch had not been properly scratched, my mother had a new idea. Perhaps one of these other boats had a different selection of wares in their gift shop! We were in sight of our boat just a few blocks away. What could the harm be (now that we were safe) of checking out another gift shop? This particular boat was loaded with German tourists. We were just meandering around the gift shop when we noticed the boat seemed to be moving. I rushed up on deck just in time to see we were pulling away from the dock. My mother caught up with me and we began to shout in English and gesture towards the shore, the crew understood we were on the wrong boat. They reversed their direction and with much grumbling and arm waving brought us back to the dock. We felt like very naughty children.

That night at dinner when other folks from our tour quizzed us about where we had been all day, we just replied “shopping”.

Contact Janis
(Unless you type the author's name
in the subject line of the message
we won't know where to send it.)

Janis' story list and biography

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher