“Don’t pick the biggest or nicest gift,” my mother instructed me. Each afternoon, The George Day Show provided Popeye cartoons on our local television station for the after school crowd, and co-host Zippy the Clown, a dwarf who made his living hosting birthday parties, interviewed children who formed the live audience for the show. On my sixth birthday, I got to meet Zippy the Clown and make my television debut on the George Day Show. Because it was my birthday, I would get to go to the table loaded with gifts and select something for myself. (Other prizes would be given away over the course of the show; no child left without something.) “Don’t be greedy,” my mother continued. “Leave the nicest gift for someone else.”
I sat stiff and excited in my pink dress with my knees pressed together like a lady, and I answered Zippy’s questions. When he sent me to the table to select my gift, a beautiful doll stared up at me. I felt my cheeks burn. Most of the other toys were for boys; there was also a Slinky, coloring books, and jacks. I took the doll.
“It’s okay,” my mother told me later. “There really wasn't anything else worth choosing.”
I think about that doll to this day, when the memory of my mother’s voice reminds me that ladies are not greedy. They have few expectations. They show they are well brought up by not complaining when given less than the best. I think of that doll when I see a homeless man pushing his shopping cart, and wonder if my relative state of prosperity is in part responsible for his concrete state of poverty. I think of her when I give bonuses to my staff at Christmas rather than funding my 401k. I think of her when I look at my blessings, and realize how little I can do to ameliorate the sufferings of others not so fortunately circumstanced. I think of her when I remember how my mother constantly denied herself so that I could have all the books and toys and dancing lessons and piano lessons that she never had, and that she was unable to give my older sisters.
I still have her, that doll, though most of the others were given away long ago. I never played with her. She is still pristine, looking up at me with beautiful eyes, reminding me of the continuing battle I wage with myself to feel that I deserve her.