some Kleenex and a hug. At least we had each other—another small hand to hold as the plane rose into the air and the other passengers stared at us, shaking their heads and wondering who would let two little girls fly alone.
The annual ritual ended in New York when my mother would unpack our suitcases and, without skipping a beat, throw out all our play clothes. Those polyester separates just didn’t fit in with our cosmopolitan lifestyle. Eloise didn’t wear Garanimals to the Plaza for tea, or to her French lesson. Of course, by throwing the clothes away, she cast aside our summer, our time with our father, and our memories, as well as her own. She did not want to be reminded of a time when she’d eaten three-bean salad and certainly not that she had liked it.
The Christmas I was ten, Daddy came to New York to tell us he was planning to marry our stepmother in the summer. We had only met her a couple of times, but I was glad about it. She was the opposite of my mother; not a fair and fragile beauty but handsome and tall with a big, low laugh that made you want to go sit next to her. She looked like the actress Patricia Neal and had three children, whom she had raised on her own as a working mother. I thought it was a wonderful Christmas surprise.
After he told us, Robbie and I ran to the tree in the living room to open our gifts. Daddy had brought us dolls that were dressed like angels, with long gold dresses and starry halos in their blond ringlets. We hung around his neck kissing him while he made funny groaning noises and said we were going to break his back.
“Excuse me,” Mother said. “You girls have received other presents, you know.” In our Christmas-morning frenzy, we had run right past the gift Mother had given us: an ice cream soda fountain from FAO Schwarz that was so big it couldn’t be wrapped. It had red swivel stools, and the white counter had ice cream cones painted on it.
Carrying our dolls, we obediently went over to our mother to thank her for her present. She was wearing a long-sleeved, black wool dress, with her hair pulled back into a severe ponytail, and her face looked all tight. I realized our mistake in not thanking her first, but it also occurred to me that she was not pleased with Daddy’s plan to remarry. Looking back later, I think she’d thought my father had traveled to New York to ask her to come back to him, not to announce his engagement to someone else. After breakfast, Mother stood next to the front door with a frozen smile on her face seeing my father out.
“I’ll send tickets for the girls,” he promised.
“Sure. Great. Good-bye, Jim.” Mother shut the door.
My sister and I ran to our bedroom and waved to him from the window when he appeared on the sidewalk below. It was raining and he had turned up the collar of his overcoat.Daddy waved up at us and then popped into a cab and was gone. We watched the taxi drive down Park Avenue.
“And have you had a merry Christmas?” Mother was standing in the doorway, holding two large, black trash bags. She spoke in a quiet, calm tone, but her clenched teeth gave me pause—this had to be a trick question.
“Yes, ma’am.” I took Robbie’s hand and waited for it to come.
“I want you to each take one of these.” She snapped the bags in the air, opening them with a violent crack. We each obediently took one. “You are to put all your old toys and your Christmas presents in these bags, including the one gift your father was kind enough to bring you. They will all be given away to children who deserve them.” Mother turned on her heel and started to leave the room.
“But why?” I asked, as Robin started to cry.
“Why?” Mother turned and looked at me, her eyes burning with anger. “Because you don’t appreciate anything you have.” Her voice grew louder and quavered slightly. Robbie and I instinctively took a step back.
“Did we do something wrong?” I didn’t understand what was happening, why she
Brenda Clark, Paulette Bourgeois