It’s that time of year again, watching people look like lemmings as they run to the nearest outlet mall or department store to spend their money. Even before I became homeless, I taught my kids that the holidays are not an excuse to grant them excessive wishes once a year but after we were homeless, the meaning of giving experiences instead of stuff became even more important. To a kid, watching most of their peers do the same routine every year and not being able to do likewise; made them feel out of place. I remember that feeling and it was on one of those nights I shared this story with them but I wonder if my oldest even remembers it when we lived out of the old rv.
I call it “Pinky’s Present” because the next door neighbor’s daughter had the nickname of Pinky and although we were all living in poverty, I don’t think she realized that the gift she gave me was far more valuable than any mass marketed trinket could ever be worth. Maybe it will do the same for you. Enjoy!
We hadn’t been in the Holly Park Projects for long, a few months at the most. Christmas was coming and our place didn’t look any different than it had before. There were no holiday decorations and we were accustomed to not celebrating any holidays. My mother had to go somewhere and needed a babysitter. She asked Pinky’s mother if Pinky could sit with us for a few hours and this was the first opportunity we had to get to know her. At seven years old, I was in awe of Pinky. She had a style all her own and a self-confidence I have always admired. From her perfectly braided cornrows to her perfectly creased bell bottom pants, she was one of those neighborhood kids we younger kids wanted to follow around.
My sister and I were in our upstairs bedroom, a place we were often sent to be out of the way and since we were restricted there, Pinky came in with her usual flair and sat down at the foot of my bed and smiled at us. “Y’all are on punishment?” she said as she snapped her chewing gum. “Punishment?” Pinky laughed. “That’s what we call it when you’re on restriction.That’s alright. Your mom went out for a while so I thought I’d keep you guys company.” Pinky glanced around the room and frowned. “Ain’t y’all gonna decorate for Christmas?” My sister and I didn’t know what to say. We didn’t even know what Christmas was except a holiday other people celebrated. I told Pinky that holidays never seemed to apply to us because we were always told there was no money to buy anything. Pinky snapped her gum for a few minutes as she thought. “Well looky here, y’all got a shoe box anywhere?” I smiled. I did have one in the closet! I ran to get it then plopped it on the bed beside Pinky. Pinky smiled and told us to stay where we were; she was going to her place to get something. My sister and I looked at each other and wondered what she was up to but in no time at all, Pinky was back with a Sunday newspaper. She rifled through the sections until she got to the Sunday comics. She pulled them out and laid one sheet across my bed then put my empty shoe box in the center of it. She folded the paper over the box then asked if we had any string. All I had was the thick yarn popular in the 70’s for girl’s hair so my sister and I gave Pinky the yarn that was in our hair. She tied the ends together and used it like ribbon around the box and tied it into a small bow. “Ok now sit around me now,” Pinky said as she waved us closer. I sat on one side of Pinky and my sister sat on the other. Pinky snapped her gum a few more times before telling us a story. “You know, me and my brothers, we don’t always get a Christmas either so I’m showing you what we do. Don’t feel bad just because y’all don’t have any money. You got to find ways to live without it. Anyway, this isn’t just an empty box.” My sister and I leaned closer and stared at it. “Well it sure looks empty to me!” my sister blurted out. Pinky laughed. “Oh sure, sure, it looks empty but can you see wishes?” Even I had to think about that one. “Oh now, it ain’t always gonna be like this, you just wait and see. Someday, things will be better than now but I want you to close your eyes and you think about what you want more than anything. See? That’s your wish and nobody has to know about it but you and it’s your wish and nobody can take that from you. Inside this box, is where you can put all your wishes; for instance, I’m wishing for a new dress and that we’ll have turkey on Christmas. In my mind, we are sitting around the table having a good time and later, we are giving each other the one gift we’ve always wanted. Sometimes I wish my mama didn’t have to work so much or my dad would visit us. Now you try.”
My sister and I were stumped. We weren’t sure what it was we were supposed to be wishing for. Pinky could see the look on our faces but she didn’t push us. “I tell you what. You just think about it a while and it will come to you.” Pinky got up from the bed and put our wish box on top of the old dresser my sister and I shared. We spent the rest of our time together playing clapping games and letting Pinky do our hair. When it was time for Pinky to leave, she stood out front where we could see her from our upstairs window. She winked and waved at us and we waved back.
My sister and I stared at the box wrapped in Sunday comics and thought about what Pinky had said. I picked up the box and sat with it on the edge of my bed. My sister stood in front of me and asked me if she could make a wish. She held the box close to her face and closed her eyes and whispered that she wanted a doll but more than anything, she wanted our father to see us. I hardly thought about my father because all I ever heard about him was bad things. Then something did occur to me. I put my hand out and my sister handed me the box. I couldn’t close my eyes but I remember whispering to the box that if there was such a thing as wishes coming true well then, I would like for my mother’s boyfriend to stop hitting her and us. I would like us to have new shoes and maybe a better place to live. My sister then giggled and said “And I am imagining that we are sitting around a big table with some turkey and stuffing and dessert and this time we have a tree with all the decorations on it.” I laughed and lay back on the bed and my sister lay beside me. We giggled and began filling that empty shoe box wrapped in newspaper with all the wishes we could think of.
The next day, my sister and I had managed to find a few more boxes that we brought to our room and wrapped them with the rest of the newspaper Pinky had left behind. Since my sister and I were the only ones exchanging gifts with each other, I wrote on hers “The doll you wanted” and she wrote on mine “New Shoes”. We put imaginary gifts into the boxes and pretended we had long hair by pinning towels to our heads and we were having a holiday party with all the trimmings we could think of. Just before bedtime, we hid our “presents” under our beds and when Christmas finally came and went, we still didn’t have much but…..we had something time couldn’t forget; each other.