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.