a long time I felt guilty about throwing away my mother's gifts.
Often I'd transfer my guilt into a bizarre sort of mourning for
the material things themselves.
I have this vague memory of standing over the kitchen trash can,
my heart breaking for three little bears lying in the bottom, clutching
tiny tea cups, soused in used coffee grounds. They were attached
to a plastic music box from a "Tea" theme gift. As soon
as I got the thing home, I pitched it. Minutes later, sappy at the
sight of those happy bear faces half-obscured in wet waste, I plucked
the music box right back out again. It felt like I was throwing
away my mother; as if to toss out her 99-cent figurines was to kick
her in the head and leave her in the gutter.
Harmless though tea-guzzling musical bears may seem, each time my
mother gives me something I don't want, I have to experience the
same feelings all over again -- awkwardness, annoyance, remorse,
resentment for having to take time to deal with the unwanted things;
to hide, hoard or discard. Decades have passed since a wood plank
shelf wrapped itself around the walls of my bedroom, reaching and
winding and clinging like a rampant vine, growing three-foot extensions
as the collection of penny banks and porcelain clowns expanded.
And I watched, passively, from the island of my well-appointed twin
bed, as a mother's gifts were amassed and placed one after another
after another in a row, like a bread line of five-and-dime dollies,
a decidedly unscientific cabinet of curiosities, label-less, without
significance, tied to no memories. It was easy to let it happen
then; I was a child, at the mercy of others. But having it forced
upon me as an adult is an uneasy thing, so it happens. It requires
some unpleasantness to draw a line at my own front door and say,
time had come to confront my mother. I broached the subject strategically
in mid-November, when I knew she'd already be ferreting away just-a-little-somethings
for Christmas. She takes great pride in stacking the boxes in ascending
order according to size, creating a bittersweet beribboned tower,
a glittering pyramid of sublimation.
I asked my mother, as gently and as tactfully as I could, to refrain
from giving me soooo many things. "I really don't have
room for that much stuff," I said, "And the more stuff
I have, the harder it is to keep my place clean. I would appreciate
one nice gift, Mom. That's all I need. You know what I want?
A Black and Decker Scumbuster. If you get me nothing but a Scumbuster,
I'll be perfectly happy."
We tiptoed back and forth for five minutes through a sludge of diplomatic
sweetness, but my mother flatly refused. "I know you don't
need these things, but I need to give them to you."
mother was oblivious to the poignancy of her own words, but I wasn't.
All those years, she'd been imposing her mania on me. My mother's
buying-and-giving is actually for her gratification. If she
gifted in the healthiest spirit of giving, my mother's motivation
would be to give me happiness -- joy as defined by me.
That was it, I decided. No more pussyfooting around. "Well,
will you still want to give me all these things if you know
I'm just going to throw them out, or give them away?"
Her response was not what I expected -- easy, unflinching. "You
can do anything you want with them. They'll be yours."
that, I wasted no time. The Salvation Army brought its truck the
following Monday. We see each other frequently throughout the year,
the Army and I. They need what I have to give, and I need to give
it to them. It's one of the most rewarding relationships I've ever
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