A “feel for feminism” and other favorite things

In a long-lost folder of favorite publications, reflections and writing assignments, I found “Helping with Homework,” written when Annie was a second semester high school freshman. Try the assignment yourself: Ask someone close to you, “What’s your favorite treasure (thing, object)?” –Sue Edison-Swift (1/24/2010)

Helping with Homework

“But I don’t have a favorite object!” I protest in the dark.  Although it is still early evening, we three Edison-Swifts are already in bed.  I am sharing a bed with daughter Annie because husband Paul is making unappealing flu noises. I hand Annie ear plugs in case I make unappealing noises of my own.

“That’s why I told you about the assignment early,” yawns Annie in practiced 15-year-old style, “so you could think about it.  You’re supposed to tell me a story about your favorite thing, and I’m supposed to write it up using your voice—your writing style.”

Well, I have a favorite present. The Christmas I was 12, Grandma Huebner gave me a glass candle-bowl. That same Christmas mom gave me a Barbie doll. Actually, it wasn’t even a real Barbie. It was a Tammy doll and it was kid stuff. The candle bowl was my first grown-up present. I thought it was an object d’ art.

“So the bowl is your favorite thing?” Annie asks as she inserts ear plugs.

“No, no. I don’t think I have a favorite thing….  How about telling the story about the thing that became my favorite only when I gave it away?”

“Hmmm.”

Taking a hmmm for interest, I continue. “I was at a four-day women’s conference. We were asked to bring a symbolic piece of cloth with us and use it to introduce ourselves. I brought the Christmas ornament Umma made for me out of my wedding-dress material. I shared the ornament, as directed, with another woman at my table. ‘Oh, thank you,’ she said as she put the ornament in her purse, ‘this is very special.’

“Special! Of course it’s special, that’s why I brought it! Can you believe that woman kept it? I was awake the whole night thinking about how I would tell this stranger to GIVE IT BACK! ‘Mom died just a year ago,’ I’d say.  I’d explain how I can’t fit into the Norwegian bunad Mom embroidered for my wedding, but the ornament is always a perfect fit on our Christmas tree.

“Then I mentally slap myself around for my possessiveness. It was a thing after all, and a little thing. It wasn’t Umma. It wasn’t the only thing I have of Umma’s. I even have a second “wedding dress” ornament…it isn’t as nice, but that’s not the point.  A story my friend Lily told me kept coming to mind. At a multicultural gathering she complimented a woman’s shawl, and the woman insisted that Lily take and keep it.  The woman explained that, in her culture, when someone admires something, you give it to them.  Umma’s ornament was special, but it wasn’t a whole shawl.

I realized that I would ask the woman for the ornament no matter how much I wanted it back. I was miserable. ‘What a gutless wuzzy you are,’ I berated myself in the mirror. Upping the stakes, the reflection countered with ‘No, you’re a greedy, gutless wuzzy.’”

“You’re too Lutheran—too nice,” Annie assesses as she rearranges the covers, “there’s no way you could ever ask for it back.”

“What about my photo albums?” I ask, thinking I had finally come up with a decent answer. “Could you write those up as my favorite things?”

“No, no. Mr. Kerr said that photo albums have too many different memories attached to them. He wants a story about one favorite treasure.

“Oh.”

Just when Annie thinks I am giving up the conversation, I have another idea. “I treasure the time in my life when I said the right thing at the right time.”

“Huh?”

“I had just broken up with Randy—actually he had just broken up with me, but that’s not the point. Anyway, as I was leaving the library one evening, one of Randy’s friends offered to walk with me to my dorm.  As we walked, he told me his game plan for dating, one that would end up with a score by the fourth date.

“About a week later, this guy ended up walking me home a second time.  As I turned toward him to say goodnight, he whispered, ‘this could be considered our second date, and you know what happens on a second date…’

“Why yes,” I answered. As I enthusiastically thumped my hand on his chest I announced, “I get to put my hand on your breast!.”

“Mom!  I couldn’t write that! Mr. Kerr would turn beet red and the class…really, Mom.”

I am shocked that world-wise Annie finds this story shocking.

“What do you mean? It was a feel for feminism! You should have seen him, he felt absolutely violated. And besides, I put my hand on his chest, not his…”

“It’s late, Mom.”

“It’s 8:16.”

“Good night Mom, I love you.”

“Love you, too.”

“What’s that sound?”

“Your dad is making flu noises.”

“Do you think Daddy has a favorite treasure?”

–Sue & Annie Edison-Swift (2/23/96)

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6 Responses to A “feel for feminism” and other favorite things

  1. Annie says:

    =)!
    Would you give the same answers today?

  2. sue says:

    Great question, Annie. As I retyped “Helping with Homework,” I wondered why I just didn’t answer “Grandma Huebner’s china.” What a story: how my mom and her mom worked so hard to raise the $25 to buy the set, along with Mom’s “they’re just things, Sue, just things” reassurance after I broke several place settings the last Thanksgiving she was alive.

    How would you answer the question?

    • Annie says:

      Too hard to think of one thing that’s been a treasure over my whole life–lots of little things come to mind. There’s the touchstone I wrote about on your facebook page. The painted egg from the China pavilion in Epcot that Umma gave me always has a place of honor.

  3. Laurel Hensel says:

    Great story! Can’t wait to share it with Olivia. As the daughter of a “pitcher” (as opposed to a “saver”), and as one who moved a lot, you learn not to get too attached to things. But I truly adore our Christmas ornaments because they represent such slices of our lives. I couldn’t part with Sam and Olivia’s baby books, but that’s not a Mr. Kerr-approved category. I’ll have to give this some more thought. Thanks for the prompt!

  4. Hi Sue, thanks for the story. You write dialogue really well. P.S. Did you notice the travel pack of Burt’s Bees in the picture on my blog. Remember, from you? I loved that — still have it. xoxox

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