When my brothers and I were teenagers, come Christmas time, my mother asked us to make a list of what we wanted.   Did she want us to feel like we had some kind of a say in what we ultimately received?  Was it just something for us to do?  I never understood why she had us do this, since she never got us what we asked for.  And it wasn’t like I/we would ask for outrageous gifts.  It wasn’t like we got the Neiman Marcus catalog and chose the most expensive, ridiculous items offered.  No, and I can only speak for myself here, I was always very careful about what I’d ask for, conscious of how much it cost and how easy it was to come by.  This did not seem to make a difference to my mother.  After several years of not getting anything I wanted, it finally dawned on me that we got what she thought we needed, so, really, there was no reason for us to be making a list.

I have never liked purses.  To this day, though they seem to be a necessary ‘evil,’ I still do not like them.   When I was in high school, and it became clear that something to carry the various things I needed was necessary, I used a backpack.  I was fine with this.  It never really got in my way since I could carry it on my back.  We are not talking about a real backpack here.  It was more a canvas sack with straps.  No matter, it suited me perfectly.

For Christmas of 1974, 40 years ago, I still had not figured out how things worked with my mother and so made the requested list.  I probably asked for a new pair of 501 jeans and something from Spencer Gifts, like a new black light and a poster to go with it.  What I did not ask for was a purse.  When I gave her my list, she made some kind of a comment about how I should ask for a purse.  That should’ve been a big, fat clue right there, but, as I already said, I had not yet realized what her M.O. was.  Since she mentioned it several times over the next few weeks, I specifically told her, “Mother, I do not want a purse.”

Come Christmas morning, I had a sinking feeling I was getting a stupid purse.  My feeling was not wrong.  Not only did I get the unwanted purse, but it was brown, which made it even worse.  I burst into tears and ran upstairs to my room, where I stayed for the rest of the day.  I was heart-broken, not only because I was given a stupid purse, but also because it was clear that my mother did not listen to me, that what I said just didn’t matter.  Once she decided I needed something, that was it, it simply did not matter if I wanted it or not.

While in my room, I hatched a plan for the following Christmas.  If my mother liked purses so much, then she could have mine.  I eventually went downstairs to the living room and retrieved that stupid purse and put it in my closet.  I cannot even remember what else I got that year because I was so upset about not being listened to.

I thought about that stupid purse all year-long, and by Christmas 1975 I was ready to get my ‘revenge.’  I got the purse out of my closet and wrapped it up all nice and pretty.  On Christmas morning, I had the camera all ready to take a picture of her expression when she opened her present.  It took her a minute to realize exactly what it was she was seeing, and when she did, she made a face.  I smiled sweetly and said, “I thought you needed a new purse.”  I am pretty sure she never used it, and she got better at listening to me.


Next week — one of my best Christmases.


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