At some point early in my life, a well-meaning relative on my dad's side of the family gave me a wonderful and useful gift. One that scarred me for most of my childhood.
I can't remember what year the gift came, nor do I know definitively if it was a Christmas present, two reasons this item never made it into last year's Christmas Crapbook. The fact that my brother received one as well would seem to point to Christmas, except that he also tended to get gifts for my birthday too, further blurring the timeline.
I also don't remember who the gift-giving culprit was, though whoever it was 1) probably does not know about said scarring and 2) is at least vaguely aware that I'm a blogger. If that's you, I forgive you.
The present had several strikes against it just in principle: 1) as noted above, my brother and I each got one, ensuring that I would find a way, no matter how nitpicky, to be jealous of his; 2) I saw my brother as the epitome of brown-haired macho manliness; 3) I saw myself as a long-haired, blond, girl-boy; 4) I absolutely hated my first name; 5) I could read surprisingly well for someone with such a limited vocabulary; 6) I couldn't scribble on this present with an ink pen, like I did with the Olan Mills portraits; 7) what they say is true: bags are not toys.
Yes, the gifts in question were toy sacks, dark-toned and durable items most likely made of denim. They lasted so long that I eventually got old enough to look at mine without crying.
So what about a bag from a loving relative could possibly scar me for the bulk of my childhood? Well, you see, it had my name on it. Which, as you know, I hated (and that was before I’d ever seen it plastered on something). But if there's one thing my young, barely literate self hated more, it was aborted attempts at alliteration.
(I was not trying to be clever there. Honest.)
My brother's bag, which was perfect, was emblazoned with adorable white lettering with round dots on all the serifs, which spelled out, “Colin’s Corner.” It looked like something made in Happytown Village over elf tea, constructed of material spun out of rainbows sewn together with threads of pure love. Our relatives clearly commissioned it as a tribute to my brother’s majesty.
My bag, on the other hand, was hand-stitched from Satan himself, who laughed along with my relatives as they poked evil fun at my embarrassing, emasculating moniker. After a lubricating sip of cackle cough syrup, they continued to chortle as they got around the inability to think up nouns starting with I by making up words. Weird words that had no rhyme, reason or sense. Words that reminded me that I had a stupid name and was just plain stupid. And that I’d never be as cool as my brother Colin, who had his very own corner, for God’s sake!
And thus from the devil’s pen of white darkness came the perplexing, dot-serifed nonsense that left a scarlet imprint on my very soul: “Ian’s Odds and Ends.”
“MOMMMMMMMMMYYYYYYYYYY!!” I no doubt screamed, probably right in front of the gift-giver. “Colin’s starts with the same letter! I want mine to do that too! It should say, ‘Ian’s Corner’!”
Despite a vow that I’d never use the bag, I soon realized that my toys weren’t going to carry themselves. So I coped with the trauma in several ways: 1) I used Colin’s when he wasn’t looking; 2) I tried scratching out the letters with an ink pen, which didn’t come close to working; 3) I only looked at the side of the sack without lettering; 4) I learned that “odds and ends” is a real expression; and 5) I learned to love my name.
Given that I associate the bags with Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out,” which I remember hearing in my grandmother’s apartment at the time, I’m guessing I got my bag when I was 2. As years went by, I grew to love my bag and made sure family members would see me sporting it. By age 7, I was taking it out to Mardi Gras parades to collect swag, letters out. After my last parade that year, I plopped it down in the den of our newly refurbished house and pulled out a pile of beads and trinkets, laughing to myself about how I used to hate this bag so much for the dumbest reasons. That’s the last time I remember seeing it, but I have no doubt it (or its ghost) is out these somewhere, groaning under all the emotional baggage that it helped this sensitive young boy conquer.
In that sense, the bag may be the greatest gift I ever got.