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Full Circle: The Mother Of All Days
When it came to gifts, my mom wasn’t easy to please
By Maury Z. Levy

I hated Mother’s Day. Next to the first day of school, it was the day I dreaded most. 

Here I was, all of 10 years old, looking for the perfect gift that said, “I care about you as much as a 50-cents-a-week allowance would permit.” So I hiked up to Grant’s, the local five and dime, the place with the formica lunch counter with the green leatherette seats, the place that sold non-kosher hot dogs, the store where my mother bought my tighty-whities. 

Perfume, I thought. She likes perfume. A woman with her hair in a bun and her glasses on a string asked if she could help me. I obviously looked lost. 

“Yes,” I said. “I wanted to buy some perfume for my mother.” 

“Oh, isn’t that sweet,” she said. “Did you have a particular brand in mind?” 

I wasn’t told there was going to be a quiz. “Umm,” I said. “I saw on her bureau that she had Channel. I think it was Channel 5.” 

“I think you mean Chanel,” she said, trying not to chuckle. “That would be quite the expensive gift from a boy your age. May I ask you how much you wanted to spend?” 

I reached into my pocket and pulled out a fistful of nickels and dimes and a red rubber band. You never know when you’ll need a red rubber band. I quickly counted my bounty.  

“I have a dollar and 55 cents,” I said.  

She put her hand over her mouth to quickly stifle a laugh. “I don’t think you’ll be able to afford Chanel,” she said. “In fact, you really won’t be able to afford perfume. But let me show you some toilet water.” 

Toilet water? Why did she think I would give my mother water from a toilet? I knew what people did in a toilet. I wasn’t stupid. I mean, I’d gotten all A’s on my report card. Except for math. And history and social studies. 

“Why do you sell water from a toilet?” I asked her.  

“Oh, my,” she said. I remember she said that a lot. “Toilet water isn’t water from a toilet. It’s actually a French phrase — eau de toilette.” 

French. French was fancy. My mother would like something French.  

“Evening in Paris would be a good choice. It has notes of lilac and rose.” 

Rose. That was my mother’s name.  

“Let me get a bottle for you.” She reached behind the counter and pulled one out. And there it was. Glistening in the fluorescent light, like a blue jay in the summer sun. A cobalt blue bottle with a shiny silver label. Evening in Paris. This could be a good choice.   

“How much is that?” I asked.  

“Why, this lovely bottle is only $1.50,” the saleswoman said. 

Wow, I thought. I’d get a Night in Paris and have a nickel left over. “I’ll take it,” I said.  

The perfect gift in hand, I ran home to wrap it. Finding no wrapping paper in the house, I went to the basement and got the Sunday funnies. My mother loved Hi and Lois. I don’t know why. 

On Sunday, my mother opened her gift. “Evening in Paris,” she said. “Fancy, shmancy. Did you go all the way to Paris to buy this?” 

Paris? I couldn’t afford to go to New Jersey.  

Then she opened the bottle and gave it a whiff. Her head snapped back and her eyes got really big, like that time my father passed gas at the Finkelstein’s Passover dinner. 

“Oh,” she said, “I’m going to save this for special occasions.” 

Special occasions. By now, I knew that “special occasions” meant “I’ll stick it in the back of my underwear drawer and give it to the cleaning girl for Christmas.” 

My shoulders sank. My head hung. I hated Mother’s Day. 

May 2018
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