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The Holiday Present That Was Left Behind

Writing about loss and grief through the memories of a little girl, and through the eyes of an adult still longing for some long ago dream

A Gift of Love and Letting Go


A Vanity was all I’d ever wanted for the holidays

We had just moved into our apartment and already my parents were arguing over finances. Things were rough that year and as the holidays approached I could feel the monetary tensions rising in our home.

My mother always was able to make our holidays special in spite of limited resources and this year my mother had been working so hard on creating a pretty vanity for me for the holidays. This was all I had wished for that year. I think that I fantasized that having my own Vanity would help our family to establish roots and not have to move yet again due to finances.

We had moved often because of dad’s gambling and I began to see the Vanity as an anchor in a sea of waves that could knock us all over again and again and take us down with the riptide.

My family were living in St. Louis, Missouri at the time, which was a long way from Queens, New York, where we had lived. We moved to Missouri to get away from my Dad’s gambling debts and loan sharks who harassed us.

We all anticipated the holidays with ambivalent joy and dread, as Dad’s gambling also gambled with our security and emotions.

I wasn’t allowed to see the Vanity until the holidays were here, but I’d sneak a peak every now and then as I couldn’t contain my excitement. My mother bought beautiful lace to decorate the Vanity with which gave it a princess like appearance. I felt a certain pride that she was making this special gift just for me!

The holidays were almost upon us and in the nights leading up to Hanukkah, some nights my dad wouldn’t come home at all, as we’d wait for him to arrive for dinner. He’d tell us that he was working late but we would know that he was at the racetrack, placing bets on horse races. He’d gamble his money away to attempt to double or triple his paycheck to pay the bills and the debt collectors that were again after us. My dad rarely won with his betting and would only increase our debt.

The tension in the household was building due to my parents‘ arguing about financial insecurity and dad’s gambling. I began to worry about not getting my vanity on Hanukkah, as I was only eight years old at the time, and thought that the world revolved around me.

Hanukkah morning came and my mother gave me my long awaited for gift with bitter sweetness but my joy was overflowing, yet ended abruptly. As I sat at my vanity and brushed my black hair gazing into the mirror, behind me in the mirror I caught a glimpse of my mother packing our suitcases. I knew what this meant, she was leaving my dad due to his gambling and we were flying back to NYC.

I had to leave my dad and my beloved vanity behind and I was crushed, and heartbroken. I recall leaving on a plane and watching my dad getting smaller and further away, and we were all crying as we flew off. I wonder what became of my vanity and if some other little girl inherited it or if it was thrown away with our other belongings.

A year ago at age 57, I went to an antique store and bought myself a vanity and a doll that looked like me as a little girl. I can sit and brush my hair and gaze in the mirror and reminisce about my Vanity that was left behind.