The Bobby Pins

1.2 The Bobby Pins

When I was seven years old, I overheard my mother tell one of her friends that the following day was to be her 30th birthday. Two things occurred to me when I heard that: one, I had never before realized that my mother had a birthday; and two, I could not recall her ever getting the birthday present.
         Well, I could do something about that. I went into my bedroom opened piggy bank and took out all the money that was inside: fivenickels. That represented five weeks' worth of my allowance. Then I walked to the little store around the corner from my house, and I told the proprietor, Mr. Sawyer, that I wanted buy a birthday present for my mother.
         He showed me everything in his store that could be had for a quarter. There were several ceramic figurines. My mother would have loved those, but she already had a house full of them and I was the one who had to dust them once a week. They definitely would not do. There were also some small boxes of candy. My mother was diabetic, so I knew they would not be appropriate.
         The last thing Mr. Sawyer showed me was a package of bobby pins. My mother had beautiful long black hair and twice a week she washed and pin curled it. When she took the pincurls down next day, she looked just like a movie star with those long dark curlscascading around her shoulders. So I decided those bobby pins would be the perfect gift for my mother. I gave Mr. Sawyer my five nickels, and he gave me the bobby pins.
         I took the bobby pins home and wrapped them in a colourful sheet from the Sunday comics (there was no money left for wrapping paper). The next morning, while my family was seated at the breakfast table, I walked up to my mother and handed her that package, and said, “Happy Birthday Momma!”
         My mother sat there for a moment in stunned silence. Then, with tears in her eyes, she tore at the comic-strip wrapping. By the time she got to the bobby pins she was sobbing.
         "I' m sorry momma, “I apologized. I did not mean to make you cry. I just wanted you to have a happy birthday”.
         “Oh honey, I am happy!” she told me. And I looked into her eyes, and I could see that she was smiling through her tears. “Why, do you know that this is the first birthday present that I have ever received in my entire life?” she exclaimed.
         Then she kissed me on the cheek and said, “Thank you honey.” And she turned to my sister and said, “Lookee here! Linda got me a birthday present!” And she turned to my brother and said, "Lookee here! Linda got me a birthday present!” And she turned to my father and said, "Lookee here! Linda got me a birthday present!
         And then she went into the bathroom to wash her hair and pincurl it with her new bobby pins.
After she left the room, my father looked at me and said, "Linda, when I was growing up, back on the frontier (my daddy always called his childhood home in the mountains at Virginia the frontier), we didn't set much store by giving birthday present to adults. That was something done just for small young' uns. And your momma's family, they were so poor, they didn't even do that much. But seeing how happy you have made your momma today has made me rethink this whole birthday issue. What I'm trying to say, Linda, is I believe you have set a precedent here."
       And I did set a precedent. After that my mother was showered with birthday presents every year: from my sister, my brothers, from my father and from me. And, of course, the older we children got, the more money we made, and the nicer presents she received. By the time I was 25, I had given her a stereo, a colour television and a microwave oven (which she traded in for a vacuum cleaner).
         For my mother's 50th birthday, my brother and my sister and I pulled our resources and got her something spectacular: a ring set with a pearl surrounded by a cluster of diamonds. And when my oldest brother handed that ring to her at the party that was given in her honor, she opened up the velvet gift box and peered at the ring inside. Then she smiled and turned the box around so that her guests could see her special gift, and she said, "Don't I have wonderful children?" Then she passed the ring around the room, and it was thrilling to hear the collective sigh that rippled through that room as the ring was passed from hand to hand.
         After the guests were gone, I stayed to help clean up. I was doing the dishes in the kitchen when I overheard a conversationbetween my mother and father in the next room. “Well, Pauline,” my father said, “that’s a mighty present you’ve got there. I reckon that’s about the best birthday present you’ve ever had.”
         My own eyes filled with tears when I heard her reply. "Ted," she said softly, "that's a mighty pretty ring and that's a fact. But the best birthday present I ever got! Well, that was package of bobby pins."