We still live in the little four-room house.
I’m off on another hunt that takes me under the couch cushion, inside a chartreuse kitchen cupboard, under the gray Formica table, behind the toaster, on top of my parents’ dresser, and finally into the oven. I stare at the package tied up with string, and the fun fades. I so don’t want a turkey for Christmas.
Mom raises her eyebrows. “Are you sure it’s a turkey?”
Sure enough, stuffed inside the bag, doubled over on herself, is a life-size, soft-bodied, dancing doll, with straps on her feet to attach to mine. I’ll take that, thank you.
I squeal when I rip the Sunday funnies off the hair dryer box. It’s exactly what I want. But inside is a pair of stretch pants. Orange and black. Not even plain black like everyone else’s. And I want to be like everyone else.
And no hairdryer. All I really wanted was a hair dryer. My eyes sting.
We’ve opened all the gifts now. There’s no hair dryer. I back close to the stove that’s supposed to heat the whole house and stare at the Christmas tree strung with single strands of tinsel and hung with plastic icicles. There’s a folded note back in the branches with my name on it. I pull it out, open it and read, “Look in the laundry tub.”
Apparently, the hunt’s not over yet.
So I trudge through the snow on this still-dark morning and stomp into the motel utility room. There, lying in the bottom of the tub, is the hair dryer that belonged in the box.
I scoop it up and run back in the house.
“I got my hair dryer!” I shriek.
Mom takes a drag on her cigarette and nods.
“Never judge the inside by the outside of the box,” she says.
I suspect we sat down to breakfast then—probably toast and fried eggs, “whites hard and yolks runny.” And I dipped my toast in the yolk and smeared everything yellow to make it edible. And Mom smoked another cigarette and sipped another cup of coffee.
Dad cleaned up the mess, and I did the dishes.
And more than half a century later, I remember—and try to practice—my mother’s words.
“Never judge the inside by the outside.”
This is a modified reprint of a post that first appeared at Focusing Still.
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