A personal story about giving and receiving from one of my Christmases way back in 1974.
The other day I was in Anthropologie with my daughter and she held up a pair of jeans, exclaiming, “look how cute these are!”
I glanced over to see a worn out pair of jeans with fringe with a price tag of $190. Oh God. You have got to be kidding me!
Instantly I was transported to 1974 Austin, Texas.
A little back story.
As my mother would tell us, we were not poor, we were just in a temporarily difficult financial situation. Call it what you will, times were quite lean. I’m not whining or complaining mind you, just calling it like I lived it.
I was a small kid, very thin, active. A bit of a tomboy. Lucky for my mom I fit into my older brother’s hand-me-down clothes, jeans in particular. I didn’t care, I idolized my brother, he was four years older and really cool in my eyes. I was completely happy in his old jeans, in particular a pair of faded blue Levi’s.
All was great until I grew. Well really my legs just got longer and the jeans got shorter, a lot shorter.
My High-Water Nightmare
Not sure about kids in your school but in my school in 1974, kids were great about giving, insults that is. Jeans that were too short were “high-waters” and the taunts were relentless. “waitin’ for a flood?” Now to add to the issue, the previous year I had won a poster contest for the City of Austin and had been on a local TV news program. Consequently everyone in the school knew who I was. So kids I didn’t even know would throw the comments, “Hey Michal, didn’t know a flood was coming!” “Nice high-waters, Sparky”
All of a sudden the soft faded jeans I had been so cool in were my worst nightmare.
I complained to my mom. Not wise.
A few days later my mom handed me the jeans.. with fringe added to the hem. She took the tears welling up in my eyes to mean I was overwhelmed and grateful. In truth, that I admit after all these years, I was horrified. The fringe only meant that I had high-water jeans now with fringe.
I had no choice, I had to wear them to school and as I expected, nothing changed. As I mentioned before, I was pretty well known at school and tough, a tomboy. So the taunts that were given to me were received and given right back with rough words, threats and actual punches and fights when my short fuse burned out. Not a happy time and not anything I could tell my mom. I was out there fighting my own battles while acting sweet and grateful at home.
The Christmas Box
Every year, at Christmas time, my mom would have us put together a box for those less fortunate. A good lesson in giving of course but truth be told we should have been on the receiving end! Anyway, as we gathered things for the box my mom picked up my nightmare high-water jeans and said,” I think these are finally too small. Do you mind if they go in the box? I know how much you love them.”
I tried to contain my excitement.
I was feeling like a true Christmas miracle had just happened. Bless you baby Jesus!!!
The Christmas holiday ended and I went back to school sporting my new white lace up go-go boots! My jeans would be forever tucked into those boots and no one would ever know if I had high-waters on. The mean comments were over! (that’s a whole other story!) I was feeling confident, cool and popular, surrounded by my friends, all going on about what we got for Christmas when something caught my eye.
Across the playground I noticed a small Mexican girl, wearing my fringed high-water jeans. She was staring at me. A little bit of freak out coursing through my veins, I looked away. Shamefully, I acted like I didn’t see her. I wanted to pretend like the jeans were never mine and had ceased to exist. Why did I have to see them again?!
Later that day when we were all on the playground after lunch, she walked up to me, in those jeans, and much to my horror spoke to me. “You are so cool, I’m so glad I have these jeans, thanks.”
I was thrown, the emotions flooding over me were too much. Not responding properly, I mumbled something like, “yea, cool.” She just smiled and skipped away. Feeling a bit sick, I just stood there.
Sick and shameful that I had hated the jeans.
Horror that I had felt embarrassed to wear them.
More shame thinking of how I had acted when my mom tried to fix them for me.
Completely unworthy of that girl’s thanks.
The Lesson About Giving I Received
That day I learned a huge pile of lessons.
The most important being; to always be truly grateful for what you have and what others do for you and that who you are is so much more than what you have or what you wear.
I never told anyone in my family how much I hated being poor, wearing hand-me downs, or how the whole fringe jean thing affected me. Nor did I share my horror at being confronted with gratitude and how it shamed me into being a better person at the tender age of 8.
Pretty sure the eye opening experience I received was way bigger than any other gift I got that year.
Merry Christmas everybody!