She recalled the first birthday gifts she received, or at least that she could remember. Five or six she was, it was a paint box, full of beautiful colors, blue, red, green, yellow. And a brush, with soft brown strands waiting to be dipped into water and then the pats of color in the wooden box. How could it be that she had received such a wonderful present? Such a gift had come from a store and that meant money was paid, money that Mother said they didn’t have.
But wait, another gift for her? Wrapped in paper with tiny flowers on it and a matching blue ribbon. Her mouth opened in awe of the beauty of the package alone. It’s colors, the texture, so special. For her? Yes, from her older sister, gone for a while in the big city, Omaha, where she worked. What is it? Just open it. And they all laughed at her surprise that two gifts would find their way to her when usually it was just a card, but a nice one, and her favorite meal of meatloaf and fried potatoes. And an orange cake, spongy and sweet. And Dad would give her a dime to spend on candy at the drug store. Now she pulled on the ribbon and it slipped off into her lap. Inside were real underwear, three pairs! She held them up, preciously, as though they were silk and then buried her little Nebraska face into the soft cotton. Sister laughed, delighted at her delight. Until then, she had worn uncomfortable bloomers make of flour sacks that usually peeked out from below her hand-me-down dress. When they hung on the line to dry the breeze hardly moved them, so stiff, with flour still in the seams.
She ran out of the room with the real underwear, white with white lace trim, and pulled off the bloomers and carefully put on her new special panties. Running back into the kitchen she pulled up her dress and twirled around, her smile proud. Sister clapped and mother laughed but said to put her dress down before the boys came in. They would make fun of her for dancing with her underwear showing. But on that day she did not care. She was special with special gifts of paints and panties. Things that cost money and were bought at stores. Not homemade things. Sister hugged her and said she must come to Omaha to visit. They would eat at a restaurant and have pudding for dessert. Mother said don’t tease her and sister said she wasn’t. But she was already far away in her imagination, sitting in a restaurant with a fancy parfait glass of chocolate pudding in front of her.
All that seemed like yesterday, Mama Bear said, her ninety-one years having passed now. How did that happen? She smiled, happy and sad. The details of the paint box and panties so close, yet her memory of the day before already gone into hiding. Where had she put the box of jewelry? Had she already gone to the mailbox? Was it Sunday? Where should I live? Have I gone to the bathroom? Where are those pills. Your Dad would have remembered that, she said sadly. But he and her memory were gone. Except for the beautiful box of paints and the real panties. The first and best gift for the Nebraska girl. Our Nebraska girl. Ever ours.