You may be wondering why a plastic garbage back is a symbol for the best gift I ever received. I hope you find it to be a touching story. It was fun for me to reflect upon this gift that I received nearly 37 years ago. Curious? I hope so. Please read on…
I am hooking up with a Midlife Boulevard blog hop with the prompt, “The Best Gift I Ever Gave or Received.” I sat in my kitchen and thought long and hard. At first, nothing came to mind. I thought about sweet gifts from my kids and my husband, but suddenly, a gift from my childhood popped into my head and I realized it was the best gift I ever received.
My parents were newly divorced. They decided to split my brother and I into the complimenting gender household so my brother moved with my dad and I moved with my mom. I was only 7. We were not even in the same town or school system. I now have this unique identity of being a sibling and an only child all at once.
Times were tough. My mother went back to school to complete a masters degree so that she could make more money. My father paid $500 a month in child support when we were lucky. I was on the free lunch program and we were on food stamps. We lived in the basement apartment of this sweet landlady named Dorothy (we called her Dot) in a very mixed socioeconomincal suburb to New York City. One of the things I remember most were the cement stairs that led down to our apartment. I was a latch-key kid letting myself in after school because my mother was still at work or school.
My neighborhood was not quaint at all. It was overcrowded with row houses on one side. Some were a bit fixed up, but most were rather run down. Many families lived in multi-family dwellings like I did. Families with 3-5 kids crammed into fewer bedrooms than they needed. We lived across from a huge apartment building with no parking garage so the streets were crammed with parked cars. We played in the streets and yelled, “CAR!” when we needed to break up a game to get out of the way.
I also had friends who lived in what seemed like enormous mansions to me at the time. Meanwhile, they were probably typical 4-5 bedroom colonials, but they had what seemed like HUGE yards with white picket fences, and piles of gifts for the holidays. I knew they were living the American Dream and I was not.
When I visited these homes, I definitely felt like I was the kid from the wrong side of the tracks. It’s funny though that when I was bullied, it was from my neighborhood kids and never from the kids I thought were the “haves” while we were the “have nots.”
Probably the only positive side to having divorced parents was knowing that there might be an extra gift at my dad’s house. He always shopped last minute on Christmas Eve and found a cute stuffed animal for me to cuddle for the weeks I was not with him.
My mother had very little money to buy us gifts. We needed to focus on necessities like food and clothing. We had a small artificial tree with just a few ornament, most that were handmade. My mother made plaid ribbons to tie to each branch to make it look more full and festive.
One morning a few days before Christmas, there was a white plastic bag on the the steps leading down to our underground front door. The type of bag that would typically be used for household garbage. But this bag, this amazingly wonderful bag, was filled with presents. I could not believe it. Where had it come from? Who knew that we were in need? I truly felt like Santa had stopped by early to bring us a little extra cheer.
For some reason, I don’t remember many details of what was in the bag. I vaguely remember a toy or two and I think there was a sweater and some perfume for my mom. What I remember most vividly was the bag itself. How one very simple white garbage bag filled with surprises made us feel special. The fact that some anonymous donor made us feel loved and a little less alone is something I will always remember.
My mother died in 2008 at only 64. I don’t think we had spoken of this memory in ages. It would be nice to chat with her about it today. That bag also taught me how to give to those less fortunate. In my adulthood, I consider myself extremely blessed to have achieved the American Dream. I have a home with a large yard, a wonderful husband, two kids, and a dog. No picket fence, but hey, you can’t have it all, right? Seriously, I know that I am very lucky. Others in my shoes have struggled to move up the economic ladder. I try to teach my children how lucky we are and how we need to help others who may not be so lucky.
Reflecting on this gift that I received so many years ago made me realize that I’ve not likely given something quite as special. I need to work on that.
Please take some time to visit the other wonderful stories for this blog hop. May you have a very happy and healthy holiday season and new year.