Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Purse...

Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for. 
-- Epicurus 

I'd like to say I was just a tiny tyke, not old enough to know better, when The Great Purse affair happened. But that would be a lie. 

It was a lean Christmas for my family. At the time, my father worked two jobs. By day, he was a mailman (pre-government postal service) bringing in a whopping $2.15 an hour. Nights, he pushed a broom as a janitor at Jackson Intermediate School.

In my kid mind, my daddy's long hours meant nothing to me. It was just what fathers were supposed to do. 

Even though I had no allowance like some children, even though my only spending money came from scouting for empty coke bottles and cashing in the deposits for pennies and nickels, I still had no concept of all that income-to-debt ratio crap. My family kept me fed, kept clothes on my back, and life was as is should have been.

One year my coat was a fabulous red leather number that had been an item getting ready to be disposed of from the school's lost and found. The jacket was magnificent, and it didn't dawn on me to be embarrassed of its origin. Nobody else knew where it came from. It was pretty. It looked cool on me. No worries.

But, like with everything else in my young-and-oblivious-to-financial-things life, I still had no clue of how difficult it must have been for my parents to have so much trouble supplying some of the simple basics of their children's needs. They DID supply them, one way or another, and that seemed to be all that mattered.

Never did it occur to me to wonder what must have been going through their minds. That it might have bothered them that they couldn't afford toys like our friends were going to get. That, while our pals would wake up to a living room full of goodies, we would wake up to one gift each. 

If only I had been able to see into their parental minds. If only. 

This particular Christmas morning, my sister, brother and I woke up to find one gift each under the tree. 

I can't even remember what my little brother received from 'Santa', I only remember what my sister and I received. 


And, you know, those pretty handbags were actually very nice. Looking back, I realize they hadn't been cheap, not with my father's income. Even though only one gift each, the purses still had been a sacrifice for my parents.

Through the years, I've agonized over that morning and the way it went down. I've---more times than I can count---tortured myself over the fact that I SAW the happiness, the pride in my parent's eyes when we spotted our purses under the tree. I SAW the expectant smile on their faces when we discovered the gifts waiting for us. I SAW all this. 

I SAW it and yet...

My sister's purse was bigger than mine. Much bigger. 

She was older than me, she had already started high school. Girls her age carried big bags. It was the style. The handbag was suitable for her.

I, who was still in middle school, was given a much smaller purse. Much more suitable for a girl my age. A lovely purse it was. Brown leather. 

But it was smaller than my sister's. It was a kid sized purse, and hers was so sophisticated, elegant. Mature. Bigger. 

Now here is where I'm ashamed to tell more. But, to say it all out loud after all these years, I find some sort of reconciling for my heart. 

What did I do? I cried. Oh, damn. How many times have I prayed for a time machine to return me to those moments between my mother's happy smile and my ugly tears? To let me do it again? 

Yes, I actually pitched a pure-d hissy fit. If I remember, I even said I hated my purse. I was so overcome with jealousy. I wanted a purse just like my sister's.

I ruined that beautiful moment---the pride that came with my parent's sacrifice---by being jealous. 

As big as I was, I threw such a tantrum that my mother promised to take me to the store after Christmas to exchange my kiddy bag for a more mature, giant bag like my sister's. 

And she did.

How stupid I looked, dragging that monster bag around the halls of San Jacinto Intermediate School! Of course, I didn't realize that until later, only seeing the vision of the little girl with the enormous purse. Oh, hell, it was probably about one hundred times too big for the junk I had to carry around. 

The funny thing? My mother recalls that incident with humor now. And I do, too. Sort of. Another part of me aches every time I see that shocked look on her face when I turned on the waterworks. 

So why am I telling this now? Is there a point to this?

I guess. I don't know. It's just that, this holiday, our family is going t be minus a child---my son-in-law Mike. And, on top of that, I think of those parents who,just this month, have lost their babies to the gunman's crazed rampage. And I see how very little the gift part of the holidays really is. I'd happily forfeit any gifts to have my son back. For those Newtontown parents to have their children back.

And our family is doing very little of the gift-giving thing this year. We're focusing on our love, on giving to those less fortunate, and just being together. 

The Great Purse Affair has tormented me all these years. That longing to re-do that morning, to have known what I know now---being a parent myself---about love and sacrifice and appreciation. 

I can't undo the horrible reaction to the purse. 

And maybe I don't really want to. As long as, through my own parental heart, I FEEL that moment and feel the big wrongness of my reaction, I'll mentally tag myself to always be grateful for those who love me. 

Wishing you all a wonderful, safe, loving holiday.