The Best Gift I Ever Received

She came to me one winter, at Christmas or my birthday perhaps. I can still see her face, pale pink and blue eyes, cherry cheeks and a rosebud mouth. She wore her hair as I did, in two long braids with bangs.  Her hair the same yellow I used to color the sun, mine, in contrast, black. 

She was beautiful. 

I carried her around by one of her braids, or by the little drawstring tucked under her chin. But mostly I sat her in my lap, this plump-faced head, and I gently squeezed her cheeks to feel all the mysterious and exciting things hidden inside the pin wale corduroy drawstring sack from which she was created. 

She had no name nor body.  Her felt eyes didn’t move but were no less expressive for it.  She had my heart, my curiosity,  and that was what mattered. 

Inside her soft pink head were small packets and sachets, tiny white plastic tubes with even tinier tops.  She smelled divine, small whiffs of delicate and delicious scents escaping the small gap down around the drawstring, all floral and honeyed and precious. 

In 1959 ours was a male-dominated home even though the number of boys and the number of girls were equal.  But still, masculine pursuits and activities seemed to take center stage, and usually this was just fine by me.  

I liked to dig in the dirt, ride bikes, play cowboys and Indians. I had female role models, of course, and they were adventurous, too, along with the men.  Women like Dale Evans, or Penny who tagged along with her uncle Sky King.They rode horses, and I mean fast, but Dale was always in skirts, and she lost some points with me for that.  They got rescued a good deal, too, but I would rewrite the plot line in my head so that the girls might save the day sometimes. 

My mother wasn’t overly fixy, although she looked beautiful on Sunday mornings in her hat and gloves, all made up for Sunday school and church.  But I don’t remember watching her prepare for a night out in her slip and pearls at a little boudoir table like mothers did on television. 

She had babies and spit up and dinner to contend with. 

My Aunt Maxine, out in California, sent me this floating face.  She had made it, my mother told me years later, sewing a drawstring bag from corduroy, gluing on the features, braiding yellow yarn into pigtails and gluing them on top of her head and down her cheeks with the ends hanging free. 

Inside she had tucked what seemed like hundreds of tiny treasures, Avon lipstick samples, little packets of lotion, bubble bath, sweet-smelling powders, discs no bigger than pennies with cherry red rouge inside.  My heart raced with joy whenever I stole a peek.  Still does, a little, this very minute, recalling it. 

The first little packet we opened, for I was too little to have mastered that skill, turned out to be a perfumed talc, although my mother and I thought it was lotion.  The fine powder went everywhere and I cried because now it was wasted, ruined. I was heartbroken. It took several days for my mother to persuade me to try again. We would be more careful next time.  

Because it is one of the worst feelings to waste a wonder. 

Because exuberance is great, but it can ruin the moment. 

And an aunt you seldom see still knows what you would love. She knows the size of a child’s hand, a child’s heart, and how a handful of tiny things, each perfect and complete, is a treasure forever, even decades and decades and decades later, the scent of talcum still freighting the air. 

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