Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Mother's Day Pledge

     My mother thinks she's going to jail.
     She is not a violent woman, nor is she a dishonest one.  She has never committed a felony, doesn't even have a misdemeanor charge on her criminal background check. She doesn't shoplift, or lie, or steal, or cheat.  She pays her taxes on time and will return an item to Walmart if the checkout person forgets to scan it.  I don't even think she's ever gotten a traffic ticket. But she thinks she's going to jail.
     Her crime?  Failure to pay multiple times for a Good Housekeeping  subscription for a dead woman.
      My mother has not moved into the computer generation, so she still orders things the old-fashioned way: fills out a little subscription card, writes a check (yes, some people still write checks instead of using credit cards), then puts a stamp on an envelope and sends the order via snail-mail.  I am often amazed that this process still works.
     She loves to send magazine subscriptions as gifts, especially if it is a magazine she particularly enjoys.  Real Simple, Garden and Gun, Southern Living....those are favorites that she sends to her children, her grandchildren, her friends, her relatives, and magazines, I must say, which have never threatened to have her arrested. It makes a great gift, giving a prepaid subscription to a really interesting magazine.  Usually, it's quite an easy process to sign up a loved one for a year-long subscription, slip a check in the mail, and be done with it. But ordering the old-fashioned way can get complicated, and not having a computer-generated receipt in today's world throws a wrench into the process and creates havoc for customer service reps, who cannot problem-solve if there is no computer trail to follow.
     The problem with Good Housekeeping started over a year ago.  My mother had ordered as a Christmas gift a year-long subscription to Good Housekeeping for my 93 year old aunt (which I thought at the time was rather optimistic). Unfortunately, Aunt Virginia went to her heavenly reward in June, thereby leaving a six month paid-for subscription which could not be forwarded to heaven.  As you all know, magazines start sending renewal notices the day after your check for the original subscription clears the bank, so starting in January, my mother began receiving notices to renew her Christmas gift subscriptions.   She ignored these notices until after the funeral in June, when, after receiving multiple requests to renew Aunt Virginia's subscriptions,  she sent a very polite note to Good Housekeeping informing them of the untimely passage of Aunt Virginia and would they kindly cancel the remainder of her subscription. They immediately sent her a renewal notice.  She sent another personal note, informing them again of Aunt Virginia's death, to which they sent a renewal notice and a bill. She wrote a third note, perhaps not quite as polite as the first two, asking them to please stop sending a magazine subscription to a dead woman, to cancel the remainder of the subscription, and to stop sending her renewal notices. She got another bill.
     In the meantime, the magazine started sending my mother two copies of the same issue each month. She sent them a notice that she did not need TWO copies of the same magazine, she only wanted them to cancel Aunt Virginia's subscription, and would they kindly correct the problem. They sent her a bill.
     At this point, somewhat exasperated, she decided to just pay the bill, so she sent them a check to renew a subscription for a deceased woman and for two copies of the same subscription for herself.  Shortly thereafter, she got another bill.
     This time, she had my older sister, who is usually quite good at problem-solving,  call the magazine and explain the situation.  They pulled up her account, noted the numerous gift subscriptions she had ordered, and promised to cancel the subscription to Aunt Virginia and to cease sending her two copies. They assured my sister that the problem had been resolved and no more bills would be sent.
The next week, a bill arrived with a notice that declared, "Final warning. Please remit before collection begins."
     My mother was horrified.  She had my father call the magazine, and once again explain the situation. They assured him the problem would be resolved. As a precaution,  she sent another note, asking them to cancel a subscription she had paid for twice for a dead woman and to quit sending her two copies of the magazine.
     The next week, she got a bill that stated she was "Severely overdue. Please remit immediately."
At this point, she announced that she was just going to pay it AGAIN because she didn't want them to report her as delinquent on her account.
     I had to intervene.
     "DO NOT PAY THAT BILL!" I yelled. "Mom, this is not your problem.  They obviously have an accounting issue at the magazine. You have done everything possible to alert them, and they can't keep their records straight. Just throw the notices in the trash."
     "I can't do that," she replied.  "I can't throw away an unpaid bill. They might send me to a collection agency. What if I go to the door one day and there is a collection agent standing there? They might arrest me and take me to jail."
     I couldn't help but laugh at her. She was actually considering paying a bill that she had already remitted multiple times for subscriptions she didn't need.
     "You are NOT going to jail. The worst thing that can happen, Mom, is that they will cancel your subscriptions, and that's what you want them to do anyway."
     Sissey, who had been sitting on the couch listening to the entire conversation, cracked up laughing as she asked, "Gans, really, do you think you're going to jail over a magazine subscription?"
     My mother was a little miffed that we were not taking this seriously.
     "I have never been accused of not paying my bills," she said.
      I knew at that point that she was secretly planning to write another check to the magazine.
     "Give me those bills," I demanded.
     "I'll toss them in the trash, " she promised.
     I knew her better than that, so I waited until later in the day when she wasn't looking and put the bill  in the paper shredder. I fully realized because of my actions that if she went to jail, it would be my fault.
     But Mom, in honor of Mother's Day, and because I love you so very much, I make you this solemn pledge:
 I promise that if you do go to jail, I'll come visit you every Sunday. And I'll bring you some magazines to read!

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